Expanding Advanced Placement Participation and Building Public Will in Little Rock, AR

Expanding Advanced Placement Participation and Building Public Will in Little Rock, AR
Expanding Advanced Placement Participation and Building Public Will in Little Rock, AR


A series of field trips, sponsored by The American Youth Policy Forum (AYPF), provided state and district leaders, state legislators, educators, and others with opportunities to see first-hand how their counterparts in other jurisdictions have addressed high school reform issues and put policy goals into practice. Each trip in the series of ten focused on the five pillars of high school transformation prioritized by the National Governors Association’s Honor States Initiative. Meetings with state and local leaders and visits to schools provided participants with a close look at exemplary programs, as well as opportunities to ask questions and discuss their observations. This project, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, was conducted jointly with the National Conference of State Legislators. The National Governors Association also cosponsored this trip.


The purpose of this field trip to Arkansas was to analyze, examine, and discuss the ways in which Advanced Placement (AP) participation can be expanded while also building public will.  Activities and events focused on four general topics:

  • Examining the state’s high school redesign work and the use of AP expansion as the primary strategy for increasing academic rigor.
  • Providing information on how state legislation in Arkansas has supported the capacity building across the state, both to better prepare students and teachers to take and teach AP courses.  In Arkansas, participation in AP programs grew 108% in the state last year—the largest single-year gains in AP’s 50-year history nation-wide.
  • Analyzing how AP expansion could be successful with previously underserved populations.  In Arkansas, the number of Hispanic students taking AP courses in Arkansas more than doubled between 2004 and 2005, and the number of African-American students taking the courses more than tripled.
  • Understanding how Arkansas has engaged the public in building support for its required SmartCore curriculum and the adoption of new state-wide college and work-ready standards.


The result of the 2002 court case, Lake View School District No. 25 of Phillips County, Arkansas, et al v. Mike Huckabee, Governor of the State of Arkansas (also known as the Lake View case), found that the Arkansas school funding system was inequitable and inadequate according to the Arkansas Constitution. This ruling provided the precursor for Act 102 (2003) which addresses equity and access in education. The act requires each school district to provide all high school students with the opportunity to enroll in at least one AP course in four core areas of English, math, science, or social studies and offer the four AP courses beginning with the 2008-2009 school year. Furthermore, Act 102 established minimum requirements for AP and Pre-AP teacher training to include a week-long AP Summer Institute training.

State legislation has been a catalyst for AP expansion in Arkansas. In 1995, Act 881 established the Advanced Placement Incentive Program to provide financial support and incentives for schools to develop their AP programs. As a result, AP Summer Institutes and AP teaching certificates were created with the support of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock to provide professional development opportunities for teachers: schools received funding specifically for AP professional development, a one-time equipment/materials grant was awarded to schools, and funding to subsidize AP test costs was established. Since 1995, the Arkansas state legislature has continued to amend previous acts to maintain support for AP expansion. Funding is now provided not only for high school AP courses but also for middle and junior high school Pre-AP courses. Schools receive up to $650 per teacher for AP and Pre-AP professional development as well as performance-based incentives for students earning a three or better on AP exams. Starting in 2005, the state paid for AP exam fees for all students in hopes of increasing access to AP courses and consequently, college credit. Arkansas is also one of seven states to be awarded the National Math and Science Initiative grant to improve the number of students scoring three or higher on AP exams in math, science and English. The grant will be administered by a new non-profit foundation, Arkansas Advanced Initiative for Math and Science, Inc. (AAIMS).

Arkansas has gained public support for their work in expanding AP programs and for the new education reforms including Arkansas’ Smart Core Curriculum.  The Smart Core Curriculum, which is a college preparatory curriculum, is required of all students unless the parent or guardian waives the student’s right to participate. In addition, a communications campaign was launched to build public support for the adoption of new state-wide college and work-ready standards. AP expansion efforts have not only improved AP programs but also general education programs, as non-AP students benefit from the strategies and methodologies that AP-trained teachers bring with them to better prepare all students for success in postsecondary education.

Welcome Dinner and Presentation

T. Kenneth James, Commissioner of Education, Arkansas Department of Education.

Currently, Arkansas ranks as the second lowest in state per capita of Bachelor of Arts degree attainment.  James explained that AP programs are being expanded because AP courses increase academic rigor, prepare students for entry-level college coursework expectations, help students and parents save money on postsecondary tuition, and boost postsecondary enrollment and completion. “Bottom line, we are using AP because we believe it is benefiting all students,” stated James. In addition, Governor Beebe believes that education is directly linked with economic growth and thus supports AP expansion.

James described the guidelines developed by The Education Commission of the States (ECS) for a comprehensive state AP policy that consist of 10 components to guarantee uniform expectations. Thus far, Arkansas is the only state that meets all 10 components including:

  • Accountability measures to verify that each district is offering the required minimum number of AP courses.
  • A virtual school component to assist rural and small schools through distance learning.
  • Requiring all public postsecondary institutions to award some level of credit for scores of four and five on AP examinations.
  • Creation of a mechanism to identify which low-income and Latino/African-American students are substantially underrepresented in AP courses by requiring districts to report annually to the State Board of Education regarding students in AP and their scores by grade level, economic status, and ethnicity.

Results show that more schools and students are involved in AP coursework than ever before. Almost 300 public schools participate in AP and approximately 16,000 students took AP examinations in 2007.

A question was asked regarding how a state moves from vision to action and whether this transformation requires new money. James responded that with competition and a changing population, students must be challenged with high expectations. “To remain competitive by 2025, Arkansas will need 55% of its adult population to have a B.A.,” stated James. James also stated that the creation of Arkansas’s Blue Ribbon Commission addresses concerns about equity and access of AP. In terms of new money, James commented on the success of AP expansion due in part to committed leaders willing to stand for increases in sales taxes to support efforts. Lastly, James was steadfast on the need for proper accountability measures to inform constituents where and how money has been spent to support education reform.

Legislative Briefing on Arkansas’s Advanced Placement

Senator Jim Argue, Chair, Senate Education Committee; Joyce Elliott, The College Board and former State Representative; Jodie Mahony, Assistant to the Speaker of the House for Education and former State Senator.

The current condition of AP in Arkansas is deeply rooted in the history of AP legislation stemming from the Lake View case (1992) regarding equity and access in Arkansas education. This panel discussed the ramifications of the Lake View case and the influence that the Lake View case has had on Arkansas education legislation. Panelists explained that AP and professional development were seen as the best use of limited resources. Thus, Act 881 (1995) was the starting point for education reform, which targeted high school students and teachers. Students received the financial support needed to take AP exams and schools received financial support needed to develop teachers with skills to effectively teach AP courses. In the next two years, new Arkansas legislation (Act 929, 1997) provided additional financial support to schools for high-performing AP students and expanded AP to include Pre-AP courses in middle and junior high schools. Since 2000 to current, Arkansas legislation has progressed to expand AP by:

  • creating the Arkansas AP Credit Policy (2000)
  •  increasing funding for AP and Pre-AP teacher professional development (Act 146, 2001)
  • requiring school districts to offer at least one AP course in the four core academic areas (Act 102, 2003)
  • requiring all AP teachers to engage in professional development (Act 102, 2003)
  • developing standards for a student to get weighted credit by requiring the AP teacher have appropriate training and the student must take the applicable AP examination after having completed the entire compatible AP course (Act 2152, 2005)
  • providing full funding for students to take AP examinations (Act 2152, 2005)
  • developing requirements for courses, instructors, and students for Endorsed Concurrent Enrollment courses (Act 936, 2007).

Panelists discussed the challenges of creating legislation to expand AP. “In 2003, we had a special legislative session on equity and access.  We took a look at what was available in the way of AP courses and found that 65% of the districts offered none,” said Elliot. Elliot also explained, “In Arkansas, we were spreading our resources too thinly and realized we needed to consolidate districts. It was a difficult and controversial issue.” With many of the school districts not offering AP courses, it was essential to properly utilize virtual AP courses to quickly expand AP to those students, which also included schools in rural areas of Arkansas. Another challenge was aligning curriculum at institutions of higher education with AP credit. This required institutions to create articulation agreements detailing the credit that would be given based on the score received on the test.

Legislative Briefing on Arkansas’s Advanced Placement – What’s Happening Now

Panel: Senator Shane Broadway; Representative Janet Johnson; Representative David Rainey

The second panel consisted of current legislators who discussed AP and its success, where the state wants to go in terms of education policy, and the current legislative environment.  And issue that has been raised is the priority that should be placed on expanding AP for all students versus expanding dual enrollment opportunities for student. As might be expected, the K-12 community and the higher education community have different perspectives on these approaches, and both will need to be reconciled. Panelists commented that the business community and champions outside the legislature will be critical to protecting the reform legislation in its current form. Broadway framed one issue by saying, “We were ordered to do an adequacy study and figure out what to do about school facilities in the state.  We now have a $1.4 billion school facilities program.  We taxed everyone who didn’t have a lobbyist in the building!  We’ve changed the paradigm of how schools are built.  It helps to have a focus on access and equity.”

Visit to Little Rock Central High School (LRCHS)


Little Rock Central High School, opened in 1927, was the focal point of an integration struggle in 1957 when nine black students, known as the “Little Rock Nine,” were denied entrance to the school in defiance of the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court ruling ordering integration of public schools. The showdown that ensued between then Governor Orval Faubus and President Dwight Eisenhower was watched by the nation and the world as the first important test of the historic Brown v. Board of Education decision. Fifty years after the school was forcefully integrated, the student body of over 2,400 is approximately 55% African American. The school serves grades 9 – 12 and offers a wide array of programs and classes. In addition, Central High offers students an international studies magnet program and an extensive curriculum including 35 AP courses as well as support services for minority students in AP classes.

Upon entering LRCHS as a freshman, staff from the CollegeBoard provide students with an orientation to stress the importance of participating in the academic rigor of AP.  Currently, LRCHS offers 35 AP courses and 11 Pre-AP courses in core subjects.  In the 2005-2006 school year, 2,153 AP exams were taken and 959 had scores of three and above in addition to 110 AP Scholars (students that take three exams and get a score of three or higher). Seven hundred sixty seven students took at least one AP course in 2006-2007, and 867 students have taken at least one AP course in the 2007-2008 school year. There has also been a rise in AP participation by African American students and a steady increase in AP participation specifically by African American and Caucasian females.

Student Panel

Students discussed their feelings about AP courses and were honest about their success and struggles. Many students were taking a full load (six to eight AP courses), while others took only one because they wanted time for extracurricular activities. Students talked about the environment in AP courses among their peers as very supportive and that they were often in a number of courses together. According to students, AP classes offer discussion and analysis and the best teachers (although all but three AP teachers also teach regular classes). Students noted that AP forces one to have discipline, balance, and time management skills. Furthermore, students commented that Pre-AP to AP was a difficult transition but that teachers were supportive and open to helping students. Students reported that AP 11th grade English is the best course because of the link to the college essay necessary for college admission. Students also commented that there is one large drawback to AP. Students often find AP too time consuming especially when students are engaged in extracurricular activities such as clubs and sports teams.

Teacher Panel

Teachers discussed the following programs, which they felt better prepared students for the rigor of AP courses:

  • Minority AP (MAP): Tutoring sessions for AP classes open to all students, but focused on supporting minority students in AP courses.
  • Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID): Prepares students in the academic middle for four-year college eligibility.
  • Ninth and Tenth Grade Academies: Small learning communities offering curriculum that incorporate career preferences.
  • Data: Using data reports from the counseling office to unearth instructional areas where students need support.

Teachers reported that increased numbers of students are taking AP courses and exams, which is resulting in some decrease in test scores. However, every year, more students are better prepared to succeed on the exams by taking Pre-AP courses, and the overall scores are moving up.

Arkansas’s Approach to Improving the Rigor and Relevance of the High School Diploma

Briefing with Kathryn Hazelett, Governor’s Education Policy Advisor; Steve Floyd, Interim Director, Arkansas Department of Higher Education; Luke Gordy, Executive Director, Arkansans for Educational Reform; and Stacy Sells, Past Chair, Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce.

It is clear that Arkansas legislation has greatly influenced AP expansion. Panelists described how legislation has improved education by impacting schools and students. Floyd discussed the work done on creating policies to clarify when students receive credit for AP from institutions of higher education. Floyd also explained the importance of providing scholarships as a form of motivation for students. By providing a scholarship for students who complete the required core curriculum, Floyd believes that it has had a long-term impact on raising the rigor for all students. Sells added that it is important that students learn practical skills, or “soft skills.” She believes that while rigor is important, it is also important to think about the relevance that coursework has for students. Furthermore, Hazelett believes that the Governor’s implementation of the Traveling Teachers Program has allowed qualified teachers to teach in more schools.

With less than 10% of students opting out of SmartCore, the ongoing challenge is to improve the success rates of students, particularly African-American students.  African-American students engaged in SmartCore still predominately score lower on the American College Testing (ACT) Assessment and then are placed into remedial courses when entering college. Floyd stated, “There’s still an achievement gap on the ACT between our Black and White students.  We haven’t talked about it much because you can cover it up by talking about the overall scores.” Panelists explained that higher education needs to become more focused on retention and graduation rates. Floyd added, “Our community colleges are participating in Jobs for the Future’s Achieving the Dream Initiative as a result.  We’re seeing greater success rates from our students of color.  This is where our growth in student enrollment is coming from, students of color.  The Governor has laid down the gauntlet for the higher education community.  We need to have higher completion rates.”

Panelists concluded that it is imperative to raise expectations and to ensure teachers and administrators believe that all students can learn.  In addition, it is important to help students understand the value of academic rigor.

Advanced Placement Professional Development

Tommie Sue Anthony, President, AAIMS.

A critical component of AP expansion has been professional development for Pre-AP and AP teachers. Teachers are required to participate in professional development at least once every five years. Anthony explained that teachers participate in the AP Summer Institute or two days of College Board training. To determine the most effective training for a teacher, professional development is differentiated by experience and can be varied through different workshops and training offerings. Furthermore, administrators, AP coordinators, and counselors can also participate in customized AP training workshops. Instructors are College Board certified, and the College Board also offers regional resources to teachers year-round. In-state consultants handle local issues and the Arkansas Department of Education is the contact for rules and regulations concerning AP. AP Vertical Teams also provide specific AP training to address the four core academic areas by grade level. Teachers can also work towards a Teaching Advanced Placement Certificate which certifies proper AP training.

Visit to Wilbur Mills


Wilbur D. Mills University Studies High School is one of six high schools in the Pulaski County Special School District. Mills High School opened in 1970 and currently serves almost 1,000 students in grades 9 through 12 from several surrounding communities. In addition to a traditional program, Mills High School has a University Studies Scholars Program, which offers a comprehensive selection of Pre-AP and AP courses that assist students in their preparation for college.

Presentations from Students and Teachers

Participants were able to hear from both students and teachers at Wilbur Mills.  Teachers discussed the importance of AP training especially for 9th grade teachers to understand what their students will need to know in the future. Teachers agreed that it might be worthwhile to consider training middle school teachers who often lay the foundation of many of the key concepts that students must understand to be successful later on in AP courses/exams. One teacher said, “Pre-AP is not just a methodology with skills and strategies, but a comfort level because they need to know what’s going to be taught.”

Students described their pathways to the University Studies Scholars Program at Mills. Many had come through the district’s Gifted and Talented program, while others had sought out a more rigorous high school experience.  Student described their AP classes and teachers as supportive and described additional supports provided to ensure they were well-prepared for the AP exams including afterschool and Saturday study sessions. Students were also able to articulate the value of the Pre-AP classes in laying the foundation for the expectations of their AP classes.

Lessons Learned: Policy Framework for Expanding AP

David Wakelyn, National Governor’s Association (NGA).

Wakelyn explained the AP expansion model that the NGA has developed to help states provide increased numbers of AP programs. The policy framework that NGA has developed relies on course mandates, capacity building, and incentives. Examples of how each might work are shown below:

As seen in the diagram, NGA believes that all components support each other. As every school must offer at least four AP courses, AP teachers need to be offered incentives and recognition while also focusing on professional development for content knowledge and instructional methods. Wakelyn explained that the most important investment in AP is professional development for teachers. Furthermore, the role of AP is to help promote vertical alignment, especially in core subject areas from the K-12 system to higher education entrance requirements.

Participant Questions/Takeaways

Participants raised a number of questions following the site visits and meetings to consider as they return to their home states, including:

  • How do you build a coalition and sustain a champion?
  • Legislators must acknowledge the lack of coordination between K-12 and Higher Education. Governing boards are a solution but are there others that may be more effective?
  • It is essential to understand the importance of change agents and their sustainability at state level, district level, and school level.
  • AP seems to be the solution to academic rigor, but it is equally important to discuss the relevance of coursework for students.
  • How do we ensure that every teacher is using successful AP strategies in all their classes?
  • Where do we find money for professional development when education dollars at the state level are limited?


Contact Information

T. Kenneth James

Commissioner of Education
Arkansas Department of Education
Four State Capitol Mall
Room 304 A
Little Rock, Arkansas  72201-1071

Senator Jim Argue

Chair, Senate Education Committee
Arkansas State Senate
5300 Evergreen Drive
Little Rock, Arkansas 72205

Senator Shane Broadway

Arkansas State Senate
201 S. E. 2nd Street
Bryant, AR  72022

Representative David Rainey

Arkansas House of Representatives
P.O. Box 642
Dumas, Arkansas 71639

Jodie Mahoney

Assistant to Speaker of the House
Arkansas House of Representatives
Office of Benny C. Petrus
State Capitol
Little Rock, AR  72201

Kathryn Hazelett

Governor’s Education Policy Advisor
Office of Governor Mike Beebe
State Capitol, Room 124
Little Rock, Arkansas 72201

Steve Floyd

Deputy Director
Arkansas Department of Higher Education
114 East Capitol Avenue
Little Rock, Arkansas 72201

Luke Gordy

Executive Director
Arkansans for Educational Reform
300 Spring Building
Suite 508
Little Rock, Arkansas 72201

Stacy Sells

Past Chair
Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce and Communications Consultant
Arkansas Department of Education
303 West Capitol
Little Rock, Arkansas 72201

Nancy Rousseau

Little Rock Central High School
1500 Park Street
Little Rock, Arkansas  72202

Tiffany Hoffman

Little Rock School District
810 W. Markham
Little Rock, AR 72201

Janice Haynes

Assistant Principal
Wilbur Mills University Study School
1205 East Dixon Road
Little Rock, AR  72206

Joyce Elliott

The College Board
State Representative
Arkansas House of Representatives House Education Committee
7808 Lassie Lane
Little Rock, Arkansas 72204

Tommie Sue Anthony

Arkansas Advanced Initiative for Math and Science
University of Arkansas at Little Rock
2801 South University Avenue
Speech Building, Suite 217
Little Rock, Arkansas 72204

The American Youth Policy Forum (AYPF), a nonprofit, nonpartisan professional development organization based in Washington, DC, provides learning opportunities for policy leaders, practitioners, and researchers working on youth and education issues at the national, state, and local levels.

AYPF’s events and policy reports are made possible by the support of a consortium of philanthropic foundations: Carnegie Corporation of New York, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, WT Grant Foundation, James Irvine Foundation, C.S. Mott Foundation, and others.

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The American Youth Policy Forum (AYPF), a nonprofit, nonpartisan professional development organization based in Washington, DC, provides learning opportunities for policy leaders, practitioners, and researchers working on youth and education issues at the national, state, and local levels. AYPF events and publications are made possible by contributions from philanthropic foundations. For a complete list, click here.