Background of the AP® On-Track Framework
Educators are familiar with utilizing scopes and sequences to ensure students are on track with their academic learning. However, little exists to help educators navigate the holistic needs of students. The AP On-Track Framework provides a road map for both academic and non-academic learning and experiences essential to the success of AP students. The framework can help teachers determine which supports they can proactively put in place to improve the chances of success for students from historically underserved backgrounds. For coaches and administrators, the framework can serve as a way to identify high impact resources and professional development for AP teachers.
Gleaned from many hours of conversations and focus groups with AP teachers, AP students, AP instructional coaches, school administrators, and researchers, the AP On-Track Framework is a collection of experiences, broken down into four “critical periods” (Strong Start, Keeping Up, Midterm Reset, and Exam Prep) and five domains (Mindsets, Student Voice and Agency, Classroom Community and Culture, AP Skill Building, and Feedback and Grading). In addition, each experience is linked to concrete classroom strategies in the “Classroom Strategies for AP Success”, making it easier for teachers to bring these experiences to students.
More About Critical Periods
The AP On Track Framework identifies four critical periods during a yearlong AP class where students benefit from specific experiences and supports. It is important to note that these critical periods may vary slightly in when they occur year to year or by content, but each roughly 4-week time period contains distinct experiences that benefit students enrolled in AP courses. The four critical periods are Strong Start, Keeping Up, Midterm Reset, and Exam Prep. You can read more about each critical period below.
It is essential to onboard and orient students in AP classes so that they feel connected, informed, and empowered to tackle the challenge– academically, socially, and emotionally. Building a strong foundation, allowing students to have quick gains to build confidence, and nurturing a sense of belonging on which students can fall back when things get difficult is essential to ensuring students are able to persist in the AP class and be successful.
At this point in the year, students are familiar with the AP structure. As the AP coursework ramps up, students need to feel a strong network of support from adults and peers coupled with a strong classroom culture of teamwork, collaboration, and persistence. Nurturing a growth mindset and providing tools for students to develop agency is essential. As coursework becomes more strenuous and the holiday breaks draw closer, students will benefit from these extra supports to persevere as things get more challenging.
As students return from winter break, it is important to focus on a “re-” mindset. Expectations may need to be reset, concepts re-taught, and students reconnected with their community, peers, and purpose in AP. Providing intentional structures around skill building, coaching for success, and helping students maintain a growth mindset and build independence and agency are essential to getting students re-engaged after the break.
Students report high levels of anxiety during this time and are likely to be at different levels of mastery regarding content and test preparedness. Providing differentiated support, teaching anxiety management, and explicitly preparing students for the AP exam will help them stay engaged and feel confident in their choice to take both the class and the AP exam.
More About Domains
Critical experiences in the AP On-Track Framework are divided into five domains: Mindset, Student Voice and Agency, Classroom Community and Culture, AP Skill Building, and Feedback and Grading. These domains are all important areas to intentionally consider when supporting students’ success. We have utilized research and our own experiences working with AP teachers and students to define each domain as well as provide an exemplar—what one might see in a classroom where experiences in this domain are occurring regularly and at a high level.
Mindsets refer to a series of self-perceptions or beliefs people hold about themselves that determine behavior, outlook, and mental attitude. Students’ mindsets are essential to their ability and willingness to persevere and believe in themselves.
It is essential to onboard and orient students to AP classes in a way that they feel connected, informed, and empowered to tackle the challenge– academically, socially, and emotionally. Building a strong foundation, allowing students to have quick gains to build confidence, and nurturing a sense of belonging on which students can fall back when things get difficult is essential to ensuring students are able to persist in the AP class and be successful.
Student Voice and Agency
Student agency is rooted in the belief that students have the ability and will to positively influence their own lives and the world around them. It can be defined as the capacity to set a goal, reflect, and act responsibly to effect change.
Students have agency within the classroom, including choice in assignments and how they complete them. Student opinions are solicited frequently and listened to in order to authentically create more valuable learning experiences.
Classroom Community and Culture
Classroom culture is largely about the way that teachers and students communicate and the way that students communicate with each other, as well the common values developed around engaging in challenging academic work.
Strong classroom culture provides a safe place where students are seen, valued, cared for and respected. Critical practices include honoring student experience, social and emotional safety, thoughtful classroom setup and structure, shared inquiry and dialogue, and values-based behavior management. Teachers and students work together to create classroom culture that builds a sense of belonging and support. This classroom culture forms the bedrock of ensuring students have the baseline support to feel part of the community and persevere when things get difficult.
AP Skill Building
Advanced classes require high levels of critical thinking and analytical skills to prepare for the AP Exam and the future courses students will take throughout college.
Requisite skills for AP success must be developed throughout the year. It is important that teachers continuously and explicitly teach these skills and allow students to practice them throughout the year with increasing levels of independence.
Feedback and Grading
Feedback is information given to students about their performance that guides future behavior. Feedback can help set a path for students, directing their attention to areas for growth and improvement, and connecting them with future learning opportunities. At the same time, there is an evaluative component to feedback, regardless of whether it is given with a grade. Effective feedback tells students what they do and don’t understand, where their performance is going well or needs work, and where they should direct their future efforts. Feedback is essential to students’ learning and growth.
Teachers must provide regular feedback for students that is applicable and timely. Over the course of the year, feedback becomes more peer- and self-driven. It is essential that teachers build systems for feedback so students have a clear idea of how to improve.
- ReachOut Schools
- Columbia University- Center for Teaching and Learning
- Learning for Justice
- OECD Education
- Getting Smart
- Ambrose, S. A., Bridges, M. W., DiPietro, M., Lovett, M. C., & Norman, M.K. (2010). How learning works: Seven research-based principles for smart teaching. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.