Education Week - March 22, 2017 - 12
An Education Week Analysis
To Close AP Gaps
actly, we're figuring out as we go."
One thing it means is a big push to open the
doors of AP classrooms to everyone, not just the
white, affluent students who disproportionately
fill those chairs. That work is complex, slowmoving, and far from finished.
At tables in the sunny lunchtime commons,
brown, black, and white students offer many stories of counselors and teachers who encourage
them to try higher-level classes. But that sense
of freedom and support isn't universal.
"They don't treat people the same," said an
African-American girl who declined to give her
name, even though she takes AP classes.
"They kind of size you up, like if they think
you're going to a four-year college, they're like,
'AP's hard, but keep trying.' If they think you're
maybe just going to community college, it's more
like, 'Sure, if AP's too hard, don't do it.' "
Three white boys eating lunch nearby said
their 8th grade teachers suggested that they try
AP classes, but since they've been at Wheaton
North, no one has mentioned it. Instead, they're
taking classes that are mostly in the school's
lowest tier of rigor.
Axel Muro had a different experience. The
child of Mexican immigrants, the 16-year-old
said he earned good grades in the least difficult
tier of classes and decided to try an AP history
class at his teacher's suggestion.
Even with a special school-provided summer
course for support, though, it proved too tough,
and Muro dropped out after one semester. "They
expect you to do it all on your own, and it was,
like, so much reading, I couldn't do it," he said.
A half-dozen of his friends have done the same,
Those kinds of stories make Biscan grind his
teeth. As the principal, he's leading the push to
change long-standing patterns that have sifted
and sorted these 2,100 students' opportunities
by race, income, and family background.
He's leading that drive in a predominantly
white, affluent Chicago suburb known for its
churches and civility, where immigrants from
Burma, Mexico, and Iran are expanding the notion of community daily.
In a high school that's one of America's best,
according to national magazines, but where students from the humble brick apartment buildings south of the railroad tracks often feel out
of place in advanced classes. A school where the
nearly all-white teaching staff politely sidesteps
conversations about racial equity, even as they
try to build an academic playing field where all
students can win.
Beneath the Surface
The patterns here aren't easy to budge. Some
are published, for all to see, in school report
Black, Hispanic and low-income students
score much lower on state tests here, as they do
in schools nationwide. More than a quarter of
Wheaton North students take AP classes-an
accomplishment that puts the school in rarefied
air nationally. But only 16 percent of those seats
hold minority students, even though nonwhites
make up 31 percent of the student body.
A fuller picture of students' lives and opportunities emerges from things that aren't on school
report cards. Whether students are in regular or
advanced classes. The grades they earn. The clubs
they join and the sports they play. How likely they
Photos by Alyssa Schukar for Education Week
CONTINUED FROM PAGE 1
are to be suspended or apply to college.
At Wheaton North, there are three levels of
classes: intermediate, or "I-levels," the default
track, yet still considered college-prep; advanced, or "A-levels," and Advanced Placement.
Low-income and minority students are overrepresented in I-level classes and underrepresented in AP classes.
Minority and low-income students are more
likely to be suspended, and they're twice as
likely to fail a class as their white peers. And
even though more than 8 in 10 minority students here apply to college, they're far more
likely to choose two-year colleges than their
wealthier, white peers.
Wheaton North started work to change those
patterns six years ago by dropping its lowest
track of classes: remedial.
"If you walked into an R-level class, it was
75 to 80 percent minorities, kids from low
socioeconomic backgrounds," said English teacher
Nicole Blazier. "The high concentration of kids
with weak skills just wasn't right for those kids."
Knowing those students would need extra
support in a default college-prep curriculum,
the school established a co-teaching system. A
teacher of special education or English-learners
joins a regular teacher in all core I-level courses
that include students with disabilities, those
learning English, and those with weaker skills.
On a recent afternoon, Blazier and special education teacher Ellen Murphy held a Socratic
dialogue on The Great Gatsby with their 25 students. As in most I-level classes, this one had
more than its share of minority students. Sitting in two concentric circles, the students debated the classic novel. The two teachers facilitated a lively discussion that involved everyone.
These co-taught classes have opened pathways for students. The A-level classes are swelling with teenagers who came from co-taught
"That's the idea," Biscan said. "To provide that
support so they can move up. And we see that
Raising Its Sights
A centerpiece of Wheaton North's work is its
new AP Inspiring Excellence program. Last
year, administrators gathered to analyze students' grades, PSAT scores, and attendance to
identify those who might do well in AP. They
sent the list to teachers and asked for feedback.
The form was deliberately designed to make it
hard for teachers to say no. Their only response
12 | EDUCATION WEEK | March 22, 2017 | www.edweek.org
FROM TOP: Junior De'Quan
Ramsey, left, works with
classmate Amina Mohamed
in a co-taught U.S.
Government and Civics
class at Wheaton. The
provides extra support
for students who need
it in lower-tier, collegeprep classes.
Wheaton High senior
Diana Romero works with
a preschooler at the
nearby career-andtechnical education center.
are marked by race and
socioeconomic class at the
CTE center and Wheaton
options are to recommend a student for AP, recommend a student on the condition that he or she
takes a summer "bridge" class, or offer explanations.
Multiple teacher recommendations triggered
a conference in the main office.
Eva Barg, a senior who's white, remembers
the day she was called down to the office. She'd
lurked below the radar for two years, trying not
to draw attention in I-level classes.
But the vote of confidence she got in the meeting, where she learned of her teachers' recommendations, felt like a lightning bolt.
"It changed the way I thought about myself,"
Eva said. "I thought I wasn't as smart as everyone else."
She took the school's three-week summer
bridge program to prepare students for AP and
got an A in AP English her junior year. A huge
smile spreads across her face as she tells this
story. Now, she's taking two more AP classes.
Summer bridge is a key weapon as Wheaton
North tries to shatter old class-taking patterns.
For three weeks, three hours a day, students
work on academic skills and study habits.
Counselors hand-schedule those students into
AP classes with the same teachers they had in
"They try to be sensitive to [students'] comfort
level when they're trying it for the first time,"
said James Butikofer, who teaches AP psychology and its corresponding summer bridge course.
Wheaton North piloted a summer bridge class
in English for five years before expanding the
idea to seven courses in 2016.
The layers of support, however, can't always
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Education Week - March 22, 2017
Education Week - March 22, 2017
The Hard Work of Making School ‘For Everybody’
Parents See Benefits in Spec. Ed. Vouchers But No Silver Bullet
Trump Education Dept. Has Yet to Hit the Gas
DIGITAL DIRECTIONS: Cybersecurity Skills in Demand
News in Brief
Social Media Connects Students to Authors
Fifth graders, from left, Braiden Roy, Pendarrin Cayer, and Lindsay Strout wave to an author visiting them via Skype in Oxford, Maine.
Arts Standards Stress Broad Concepts, Include Media Arts
Plan to Shut Detroit’s Failing Schools Reveals Lack of Options
Kentucky’s Schools Are Poised for a Massive Shake-Up
ESSA Rules’ Rollback Complicates States’ Planning Process
Tuning Up the Message No Easy Lift as Ed. Secretary Settles In
Deep Cuts Proposed for Ed.Dept.
Chris Doyle: Fake News Isn’t New
Nancy Grasmick: The Brain-Health Effect
Q&A With Gary Younge: Seven Bullets a Day
TopSchoolJobs Recruitment Marketplace
Tyrone C. Howard: Why Are We Criminalizing Black Students?
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - DIGITAL DIRECTIONS: Cybersecurity Skills in Demand
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - 2
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - 3
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - News in Brief
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - Report Roundup
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - Fifth graders, from left, Braiden Roy, Pendarrin Cayer, and Lindsay Strout wave to an author visiting them via Skype in Oxford, Maine.
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - 7
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - Arts Standards Stress Broad Concepts, Include Media Arts
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - Plan to Shut Detroit’s Failing Schools Reveals Lack of Options
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - Kentucky’s Schools Are Poised for a Massive Shake-Up
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - 11
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - 12
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - 13
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - 14
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - 15
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - Tuning Up the Message No Easy Lift as Ed. Secretary Settles In
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - Deep Cuts Proposed for Ed.Dept.
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - 18
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - 19
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - 20
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - 21
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - 22
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - 23
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - Nancy Grasmick: The Brain-Health Effect
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - Letters
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - Q&A With Gary Younge: Seven Bullets a Day
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - Readers React
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - TopSchoolJobs Recruitment Marketplace
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - 29
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - 30
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - 31
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - Tyrone C. Howard: Why Are We Criminalizing Black Students?
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - CW1
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - CW2
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - CW3
Education Week - March 22, 2017 - CW4