Equal Opportunity Schools Helps High School Students Take More Challenging Courses

As Peoria Public School students and parents prepare for high school course registration for the 2017/2018 school year in January, our high school counselors, teachers and administrators are undergoing a paradigm shift which may bring exciting changes to the futures of our students.

Recently high school staff members began working with Equal Opportunity Schools (EOS), a method developed by a Seattle-based non-profit which helps schools increase the number of students enrolling in Advanced Placement (AP) classes and International Baccalaureate (IB) programmes. Through student surveys, EOS identifies high school sophomores and juniors who are capable of AP/IB but, for various reasons, do not enroll. By gathering in-depth data on individual students’ academic records, socioeconomic background, and extracurricular activities, and helping school personnel provide one-on-one guidance, EOS helps schools increase the number of students successfully completing AP/IB classes.

Why is this important? AP/IB classes give students the rigor and challenge they would find in college classes, making them far better prepared once they attend college. According to EOS, students who take AP/IB classes in high school are 30 to 40 percent more likely to graduate from college than students who do not. And while 76 percent of high school sophomores aspire to earn at least a bachelor’s degree, only 33 percent of 25-29 year-olds actually earn a college degree.

According to EOS representative Dr. Tracy Conrad, high school students are most often urged to enroll in AP/IB classes by parents and counselors based on grade point average and test scores. Statistically, students from white and Asian backgrounds whose parents are college graduates are far more likely to enroll in AP/IB classes while students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, students of color and students whose parents did not attend college are far less likely to attempt AP/IB classes, even if their test scores and grades qualify them to enroll.

Research shows that underrepresented students give a variety of reasons for avoiding AP/IB classes, but schools should look below the surface of those reasons. For example, a student who believes the classes are too much work may be afraid of failing or falling behind on outside family responsibilities. EOS asks students to identify a trusted adult – a teacher or school counselor – who can help the student examine possible fallacies in their reasons for avoiding AP/IB classes and help them choose appropriate AP/IB classes.

Enrolling underrepresented students in more challenging classes can produce long-term positive results, says Conrad. By giving students a chance to “play college” while in high school, we give them a distinct advantage when they enter college with realistic expectations of the work required at the post-secondary level.