Lafayette schools expanding access to advanced classes for minority students. Here's how

The Lafayette Parish School System is working to grow its dual enrollment offerings and ensure minority and low-income students have access to advanced courses.

Access to advanced placement (or AP) and dual enrollment (DE) courses in high school has been a documented problem for minority and economically-disadvantaged students nationwide for years. In 2020, a study from The Education Trust found that Black students made up 15% of the nation’s high school population, but only 9% of the enrollment in AP classes. Latino students made up around a quarter of the total high school population, but only made up 21% of AP enrollment.

Around one in every 10 economically-disadvantaged graduates in the Lafayette Parish School System was in a dual enrollment class in 2020, according to Louisiana Department of Education data, despite low-income students making up around 65% of the district’s total student population.

In LPSS, around 24.2% of high school graduates in 2020 had completed an AP course, and around 21.7% had completed a dual enrollment course. But for low-income graduates, only around 14.8% had been in an AP course and 11.6% had been in a DE class. Around 17.3% of non-white graduates finished an AP course and 13.4% did a DE class.

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These classes can have significant impacts on students, inside and outside of the classroom. The classes tend to be more rigorous and provide an additional challenge to students, and they also give students opportunities to earn college credits, which can save them money on college tuition.

Over the last several years, LPSS has had some success in boosting AP and DE participation.

“We still have a lot of work to do in a lot of areas, but we’ve made great progress in closing so many opportunity gaps for our students with disabilities, for our minority students, for all the subgroups we have,” LPSS Superintendent Irma Trosclair said.

Why are AP and DE classes important?

Advanced placement and dual enrollment classes have a number of benefits for students. For one, the classes are generally more rigorous than the standard courses, which gives students a challenge and the ability to better prepare for college, said LPSS Associate Superintendent Francis Touchet.

But they also can save students – and their families – money in the long run. By taking an AP or DE class, students rack up some college credits before ever setting foot on a college campus, which can trim down the bill for tuition.

“It’s something that reduces the amount of tuition that they’re having to pay,” Touchet said. “That is something that parents are definitely looking at, especially with the economy.”

The ability to complete college credits while still in high school is one reason dual enrollment has gained popularity across the U.S. Typically, the DE model involves a teacher being certified for both the high school course and a college-level equivalent, and the students complete work toward the high school and college credits in one course.

AP classes can also help students knock out some college credits, but many education systems have shifted away from AP in favor of dual enrollment. To get college credit in an AP class, a student has to take an end-of-year exam (called an AP Test), which is scored 1-5. Each college may have different standards on the score needed to replace college credits.

Mark Rabalais, the assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction, said LPSS isn’t shifting away from AP courses, but it has been trying to expand its dual enrollment offerings.

“Maybe dual enrollment wasn’t as much at the table as AP was in the past, and now they have an equal seat at the table,” Rabalais said. “It’s just opened the playbook for a lot of high schools to pursue those paths.”

Closing opportunity gaps

LPSS has seen success in improving AP and DE participation over the last few years, though the level of improvement for minority and low-income students was slightly lower.

In 2016, fewer than 20% of graduates had taken an AP course and around 13.5% had been in a dual enrollment class. Among minority graduates, 16.4% had taken an AP class and 9.4% had been in dual enrollment courses. Around 13.3% of low-income graduates had completed an AP class and 8.7% had done a DE class.

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But among the Class of 2020, nearly a quarter of all graduates had completed an AP course – an increase of around 5.5 percentage points. The increase was even greater for dual enrollment, rising 8.2 percentage points to 21.7%.

The participation rates for minority students also increased, but at a lower level than the overall student population. In the 2020 class, 17.3% of minority graduates had been in AP classes and 13.4% had been in dual enrollment – increases of 0.9 points and 4 points, respectively.

Around 14.8% of graduates that were considered to be economically disadvantaged had been in an AP class, an increase of around 1.5 percentage points. Dual enrollment participation rose 2.9 percentage points to 11.6%.

Among Louisiana’s school districts, LPSS ranked 11th for the percentage-point increase for dual enrollment participation among minority graduates from 2016 to 2020, according to LDOE data.

Trosclair said the improvement is the result of a number of changes the district has implemented over that span. She said one change the district has made is to increase the number of university partners for the dual enrollment programs.

Because each university has different onboarding procedures, LPSS can offer more DE courses at more schools if it grows the number of universities it works with.

For many years, the district had partnerships with two universities for DE courses. By 2022, LPSS had formed partnerships with seven colleges for dual enrollment, including LSU, UL Lafayette, South Louisiana Community College, LSU - Alexandria, Grambling State University, Southern University, and Northwestern State University.

“With more universities, we’ve been able to certify more teachers and do professional development to get them dual enrollment and AP trained,” Rabalais said. “Therefore you have more campuses with more teachers offering more courses, so it’s been able to grow exponentially.”

From the 2018-2019 school year through the 2020-2021 school year, LPSS has doubled its enrollment in DE classes.

Touchet said the district has also improved the way it tracks student progress prior to high school. If the district can identify and help students in elementary and middle school, they may be more prepared to take on tougher courses in high school.

Closing opportunity gaps – and ensuring students are able to use resources – is another part of the equation. Trosclair said one example was after-school tutoring programs at elementary schools. Many low-income students weren’t able to stay for tutoring because they didn’t have rides. So, the district began providing transportation for the after-school programs.

“They just couldn’t attend those after-school learning opportunities,” Trosclair said. “Early on in our administration, we said, ‘Well, if they’re not attending because they don’t have transportation, let’s provide transportation…’ All these things matter when you’re trying to close achievement gaps. You have to close opportunity gaps first.”

LPSS is also a 1:1 district, meaning it has at least one internet-capable device per student. In 2020, it also launched the Link and Learn initiative, which helps provide low-cost internet to qualifying families.

Trosclair said LPSS will stay on its current course to further close the gaps, which means continuing to improve tracking before high school, forming partnerships with more colleges and ensuring students have access to opportunities and resources.

“[We have to] continue pushing the way we’re pushing,” Trosclair said. “To continue to ensure that we have teachers that are certified to teach the courses, that we partner with as many universities as we can to increase opportunities and then to continue making certain that we’re intervening in early years.”

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This article originally appeared on Lafayette Daily Advertiser: How is LPSS working to improve access for AP and dual enrollment?