Deadline for the initial submission of course materials (a syllabus and Course Audit form) for the 2014-15 school year.
by Mike Barry
Advanced Placement Program
The College Board
Districts Share Their Audit Experiences
In an effort to assist educators as they prepare for the upcoming AP Course Audit, the AP Program recently conducted a survey of district representatives to find out:
- Best practices for communicating information about the AP Course Audit to teachers and administrators
- Initiatives, workshops, or other activities that have been effective in helping teachers create and review syllabi for submission
- Ways in which the AP Course Audit has served as an effective professional development opportunity for teachers
The results of our survey indicate that many school districts have taken significant strides toward preparing teachers and administrators for the AP Course Audit. The districts we spoke with described a range of activities underway, including organizing districtwide AP Course Audit workshops to assist teachers with syllabus preparation, developing a process for internally reviewing syllabi before submission to the College Board, and establishing common syllabi for AP courses.
Nearly all of the districts that responded to the survey indicated that one of the best ways to prepare for the AP Course Audit is to organize a districtwide workshop. Hosting an AP Course Audit workshop gives school administrators and AP teachers an opportunity to find out what they need to know, ask questions, and raise concerns. In providing both new and experienced AP teachers with a common venue to discuss the requirements of their courses, these workshops can also serve as a valuable networking and professional development opportunity for those involved.
Santa Ana Unified School District in Santa Ana, California, is one example of a district that hosted a successful AP Course Audit workshop for its teachers. Kathy Apps, the 6-12 Gifted and Talented Education (GATE) coordinator for the district -- the fifth-largest school district in California with 58,000 students and 60 AP teachers -- knew that she needed an organized, deadline-driven approach to coordinating the AP Course Audit process. To kick off the planning phase, Apps organized a full-day AP Course Audit workshop that every AP teacher in the district attended. Kathy set three main goals for the workshop:
- Provide teachers with general information regarding the AP Course Audit, including why the College Board is conducting this audit, wthat is required of administrators and teachers, and important deadlines.
- Give AP teachers a chance to meet and work together on syllabus preparation
- Develop a process and timeline for internally reviewing all syllabi before submission to the College Board.
During the first part of the workshop, Apps informed teachers and staff about the purpose and process of the AP Course Audit. The College Board offers a PowerPoint presentation for schools to use for this purpose:
The second part of the workshop gave teachers the opportunity to meet in small groups by AP course. District staff prepared folders containing printouts from the AP Course Audit Web site, copies of the official AP Course Descriptions, and copies of the sample syllabi available on AP Central. The teachers used these materials to guide their discussions throughout the afternoon.
Since this was the first time every AP teacher in the district had ever gathered for a staff development meeting focused exclusively on AP, the workshop was a valuable experience that went beyond simply preparing teachers to meet AP Course Audit requirements. The participants found that the audit had an unexpected benefit: providing an effective way to bring teachers in the district together for professional development and collaboration. Afterward, Apps reflected on the experience:
The [AP Course] Audit is a good way to get teachers networking and talking about what they teach, so that there is a sense of communication and sharing of thought about the subjects being taught. We stressed that we are not trying to take away their autonomy or telling them what to do. The College Board's course requirements are at the heart of what they teach and everything else should be based on what they find as successful practice in their classrooms.
After the workshop, Santa Ana USD created a schedule for ensuring that all AP teachers have their syllabi ready for submission by January. The first step is to have all AP teachers in the district submit their syllabi to the assistant principal of instruction at their schools in December. Committees of AP teachers will then carefully review the syllabi in "peer-edit" sessions. During these sessions, the committees will use the syllabus self-evaluation checklist, evidence tables, and other resources available on AP Central to ensure that each syllabus clearly demonstrates the curricular requirements for that course. Each AP teacher will receive detailed feedback from the committee so that any necessary revisions can be made. The teachers will then submit their revised syllabi to their principals for final approval. Once the principal signs off, the teacher will go online and submit the syllabus through the AP Course Audit Web site. For details about this process, see:
By hosting a one-day workshop for all AP teachers in the district and creating an internal process for reviewing syllabi, Santa Ana USD is well prepared to begin submitting AP Course Audit materials in January 2007.
Creating Common Syllabi for AP Courses
Another approach that has been helpful for some districts is to create common syllabi for all AP courses in the district. Some teachers have expressed concern that the use of common syllabi could limit their autonomy and creativity in teaching the course because common syllabi might force them to follow a prescribed curriculum. In all of the districts we surveyed, however, representatives were quick to point out that common syllabi are not meant to be used in this way. Instead, the common syllabi are designed to serve as models that teachers can modify and revise to fit their individual teaching methods.
Developing common syllabi can have several advantages for schools, teachers, and parents:
- Through the process of collaboration, the best practices used by each teacher can be leveraged across all of a district's courses.
- The process of creating common syllabi connects AP teachers who might never have had an opportunity to work together and thus can help teachers across schools develop new support networks for sharing information and ideas throughout the school year.
- Common syllabi can be useful for ensuring that parents and students are aware of the expectations of each course. Some districts post the syllabi on each school's Web site so that they are accessible at any time.
- Some districts, such as Homewood-Flossmoor Community High School District 233 in Illinois, used the process of creating common syllabi as an opportunity to vertically align syllabi across grade levels. Vertically aligning the curriculum gives teachers a way to increase the degree of rigor in all courses at a school. As a result, more students have access to courses that will help them build the knowledge, skills, and abilities necessary for a successful experience in AP.
The decision to develop common syllabi is one that can only be made locally, and the College Board supports both the districts that are preparing for the AP Course Audit in this way and those districts that are encouraging teachers to submit unique, individual syllabi. Conroe Independent School District in Texas, for example, has found the use of common syllabi to be unrealistic because each high school is on a different daily schedule. The teachers in the district still collaborate, and some teachers at the same high school might use a common syllabus, but ultimately each teacher creates his or her own unique syllabus for the course. District curriculum coordinators are available to help review the syllabi and provide one-on-one feedback, but the district is not requiring that teachers submit syllabi for review at the district level.
The AP Program unequivocally supports the principle that each individual school must develop its own curriculum for courses labeled "AP." Rather than mandating any one curriculum for AP courses, the AP Course Audit provides teachers with a set of expectations that college and secondary school faculty nationwide have established for college-level courses. The College Board is dependent upon teachers and schools to develop syllabi that best meet the needs of their students, while simultaneously meeting the particular requirements of the course.
Recommendations from District Staff
In the survey, we asked district staff if they had any recommendations or advice for other educators in preparing for the AP Course Audit. We'd like to close by sharing two such examples:
Do this in teams, take the personalities out of it and put the responsibility on the school organization rather than any one teacher. Choose someone to coordinate and thoughtfully help each group through the process. Buy-in is needed from the district office, building principal, and department chairs/lead teachers.
-- Dean Auriemma, Homewood-Flossmoor Community HSD 233, Homewood-Flossmoor, Illinois
Do not wait until January. Once spring arrives teachers do not have time to create a new syllabus. Start now and make small revisions as each element of information comes out from [the] College Board. Help them with check points and give them contacts in their subject to open the conversations about the [AP Course] [A]udit. Reinforce a positive environment consistently. Finally, trust the teachers. After all it is their course and their students. This should be their celebration.
--Debbie Pennington, Coordinator, Advanced Academics, Conroe Independent School District, Conroe, Texas
Annual AP Course Renewals
Beginning in August of each academic year, AP Course Audit administrators are responsible for renewing previously authorized courses that will again be offered. Administrators can renew courses online from their AP Course Audit account.
A new report on AP provides the perspective of a national sample of AP teachers on issues of the program's quality, growth, equity and rigor.