The Salem-Keizer School District was recently accepted to the Lead Higher Initiative, a national effort spearheaded by the nonprofit Equal Opportunity Schools that helps schools provide better access to advanced classes for students of color.
As a member of the first Lead Higher cohort, Salem-Keizer schools will receive technical assistance from Equal Opportunity Schools to close participation gaps in Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) programs.
Lead Higher and its 117 school partners will, over the next three years, transition 100,000 low-income students and students of color into a successful Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate experience.
The program will support schools by providing data analysis to measure student- and school-specific causes of participation gaps, develop a strategy for addressing those causes, and by fall 2017, transition all of the historically-underrepresented students who have been identified as ‘likely to benefit from AP/IB’ into one of these course opportunities.
The initiative also offers support to students once in those courses to they continue to succeed. That may come in the form of one-on-one tutoring or support, study groups, or Socratic seminars, to name a few.
Kelly Carlisle, assistant superintendent of the district, said Salem-Keizer is among 1 percent of districts across the country that have almost completely closed the advanced course participation gap.
He first become interested in getting Salem-Keizer involved with the Equal Opportunity Schools in 2013, when Oregon was identified as one of 16 states the organization wanted to partner with to improve access to these courses.
Carlisle worked with national and district officials to get Sprague, North and McKay high schools involved two years ago. West, South and McNary High School joined the year after. They will all be part of the new Lead Higher initiative this year.
South Salem is the only school certified for IB courses; however, each of the high schools has AP courses, ranging from AP English and Biology, to Environmental Science and Human Geography.
He said the goal is for every student who is identified as having the potential to succeed in advanced courses to sign up for one or more classes.
In order to do that, it takes adults in schools intentionally reaching out to students and “inviting” them to participate in these courses, Carlisle said.
“These classes are open to anyone to participate, but many often don’t step forward,” he said. “It’s very different when an adult says, ‘You can do this.'”
Carlisle said there was a fear when the district first became involved with Equal Opportunity Schools that by adding so many more students into the courses the overall grades and average GPA would decrease significantly; but that wasn’t the case.
“The average GPA only went down a small percentage; it was very close to the same even with many more involved,” he said. “That’s pretty phenomenal.”