Though Advanced Placement participation in rural communities has increased in the past 15 years, it still lags behind participation rates in urban and suburban communities, District Administration reports.
Three states — Arkansas, Indiana and South Carolina — are now requiring high schools to offer at least one AP course as a way to increase rural student access to rigorous pre-college work alongside an opportunity to earn college credit.
Other ways to improve access are funding programs such as virtual AP courses, improving teacher training so rural schools can develop local AP teacher leaders and including AP incentives in accountability measures.
In the quest to provide as much educational equity as possible, researchers are taking a hard look how opportunities to pursue AP courses compare in different communities. In rural districts where budgets are tight and school populations tend to be smaller, district leaders often find it hard to justify hiring teachers qualified to teach such rigorous courses.
However, many of these courses are now available through online programs or virtual public schools. Districts still need to make sure they have the technology necessary to support these programs, but these barriers are coming down in many school districts. Even with this access, districts often need incentives to help them see the need for accommodating students who are performing well when low-performing students demand so much funding and attention. Some states are offering free AP exams to students or offering bonus pay to teachers whose students pass the exams. Many also weigh grade point averages heavier for AP courses, a situation that sometimes creates so much of an incentive for highly competitive students that schools may need to limit AP courses to reduce student stress.
While AP courses are a great way for students to be able to skip some college courses and thus save money, there are a growing number of other paths to this goal. These include International Baccalaureate programs, Cambridge curriculum programs and dual enrollment credit programs through partnerships with local community colleges. For schools where AP access may be a struggle or may not generate enough interest, these other options may be something to consider.