Talented and gifted programs at the high school level most often take the form of Advanced Placement (AP) or International Baccalaureate (IB) coursework.
According to Godley
AP and IB programs help high school students develop the stamina and persistence necessary to succeed at the college level. In one study, data showed that, “Pittsburgh Public School students who graduate having taken two or more AP courses are twice as likely to persist in college compared to their peers who do not take AP courses.”
A 2008 study completed by researchers at the University of Texas (funded in part by the College Board) found a significant correlation between success at the post-secondary level and the completion of AP coursework at the high school level. The study affirms that students who enroll in AP courses have higher GPAs in college and are more likely to graduate within four years
. While some critics of the AP program contend that the coursework results in stressful learning conditions due to the accelerated pacing, most agree that access to these programs must be more equitable.
Encouraging students who may not meet the “AP potential” standards, often times those from marginalized backgrounds, to enroll in AP classes is, however, only part of the solution. Education researcher and activist Diane Ravitch questions the effectiveness of access campaigns in her blog post entitled, “Are AP Courses Ripping Off Minority Students.” Ravitch cites a
article that highlights the failure rate of AP exams. “For the 2011-2012 school year…about 40 percent of students who took an AP class failed, but nearly 75 percent of African American students nationwide failed, and the pass rates for Latinos and low income students are far below those of Whites and Asians.
” Ravitch’s important post critiques the testing industry’s drive for profit by pushing its evaluation tools as a panacea for the achievement gap; however, the benefits of a literature course that places diverse, complex texts and analytical thinking at its bedrock is something that should be championed. As educators we must both insist that low-income and minority students have opportunities to study rich material and also find ways to support students’ success in advanced programs.
The unit that follows incorporates strategies and content designed to support “non-traditional” AP student success in an AP Literature and Composition classroom. According to Godley
., helping students to identify as AP students by creating shared learning communities, intentionally addressing racial or income divides within the classroom, and normalizing puzzlement and confusion can pave the way for student success. Additionally, using reflective writing (metacognition strategies) about student thinking and writing as well as personal response to thematic ideas can help remove barriers to student achievement. Finally, educators can encourage students’ entry into the material through relevant, interesting, and familiar topics. It is this final recommendation that shapes much of the unit that follows.
After a course orientation, the first novel I teach in my AP Literature and Composition class is Ralph Ellison’s
Questions of identity are central to this lengthy and complex text. Although students in the 11
grade have some level of comfort with the concept of identity, a surface reading of the novel can oversimplify the plight of the nameless narrator as he struggles against the social conditions that deny him a vision of himself. The unit that follows is certainly not the first to focus on the theme of identity as an entry point into the text; however, it expands the study of identity to include personal writing and connections to current events. Young people are drawn to investigations of the self because they are still discovering their identities and forming their place in the world. The historical forces that give shape to the novel (the Great Migration, the Harlem Renaissance, The American Communist Party, racism, Black Nationalism, etc.) influence the protagonist’s construction of identity, much as contemporary socio-political influences (The Great Recession/predatory lending, the celebration of Black Excellence, the popularity of Bernie Sanders, the Black Lives Matter Movement, etc.) impact the identity formation of young people in 2016.