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As the school calendar rolls on and the time for new course proposals and curricular revisions nears, take a minute to consider how some minor changes can positively impact enrollment in your Advanced Placement (AP) Studio Art courses. Regardless of your personal opinion on AP courses and the Studio Art curriculum, AP does carry a lot of weight in many school communities.
Many students are motivated by the benefits like the potential of earning college credit, GPA bumps, or even the perceived status of being in an AP course. For the art teacher, an AP art course with robust enrollment and positive results can be highly valued by your administration and school community. And value is important to remain relevant.
The problem: One of the most common barriers to an AP course is the prerequisite courses required in order to enroll. Understandably, prerequisites can help teach students the knowledge and skills you want them to acquire prior to being in AP. You want students to be successful in the course and, thus, they need to have the necessary tools. Unfortunately, meeting the number of prerequisites can be challenging when you consider other factors like an increase in graduation requirements and required support classes. These scheduling barriers can limit the number of students available to take the necessary courses prior to AP.
The fix: Reduce your prerequisites to increase the pool of students eligible to enroll. Once students are in the course, you can continue to teach them skills and approaches through your assignments.
The problem: One unwritten prerequisite is the perception of students who enroll in the course. Many programs consider AP to be reserved for the “serious art student” or for students who are “going to art school.” These perceptions can heavily influence how counselors work with students and how students see themselves. You might also feel like AP is only for students who already have a strong skill set and a developed artistic voice, and this is their opportunity to work with little instruction and only your guidance.
The fix: Rebrand the course and the definition of an AP art student to be a space where all students can be successful. Redefine what success means by welcoming students who might enter the course with the ability to earn a one on the portfolio submission but can leave the course with a passing score of a three. Rather than accepting students with strong technical skills, consider students with the habits of mind that contribute to success. For example, students who are willing and interested in making art, who will put in the time necessary, and who can be receptive to feedback and learning.
The problem: Students have to know an AP art course exists before they can enroll. This often begins with their freshman year as they think about a four-year course plan. Start by looking at how your AP course name aligns with the rest of your courses. Current course names can vary from AP Studio Art, AP Art, AP Drawing, AP 3D Design, etc. Some of these names can be unclear. You don’t want to rely on a student having to read a course description to be aware of a course. The College Board does not require the high school course title to match the AP course title.
The fix: Change the name of the AP course(s) to be more clear and consistent with your other course titles. For example, if you currently offer Photography 1, 2, and 3, create a course for AP Photography. While you might not be able to field a whole section of these students, they can be combined with other art sections as necessary in the scheduling process. This allows students to better understand what opportunities are available and is consistent with your overall program. A student interested in photography might not think of themselves as an artist or be put off by an AP art course.
The problem: AP art programs can be challenging when all of the students, regardless of the preferred medium, are in the same class. It’s likely you don’t have one classroom in your school that can offer all of the supplies necessary for all mediums. Students working three-dimensionally might be sent to another room during class that better supports their needs in many cases. While well-intentioned, this often results in students leaving their peers and working in another space without direct access to the teacher.
The fix: Create multiple sections of AP art based on similar mediums. For example, AP Drawing & Painting and AP Ceramics & Sculpture. If you aren’t able to run a whole section due to enrollment, combine these classes with an upper-level section within the same strand. This gives the AP students direct access to the materials they need, a community of other AP artists, a teacher in the room, and gives potential AP students a glimpse at what they could do in the future.
How to Set Your AP and Advanced Students up for Success
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Art Teacher Answers for Advanced Placement Portfolio Questions
A More Effective Way to Plan Your AP Courses
The AP Studio Art courses by the College Board provide students with many benefits. Most importantly, the portfolio requirements direct students to create a consistent body of work investigating a particular idea. All students could benefit from experiencing this process regardless of technical skill. If all students could leave high school with the ability to form an opinion and support that opinion with (visual) examples, think of how much more prepared they would be for the future. Follow these tips to help you maximize the number of students able to benefit from this experience and increase your AP enrollment.
In what other ways could teachers build their enrollment in AP courses?
How could teachers encourage more students to think of themselves as AP artists?