Center X: Workshops at UCLA Propel Students to Success on AP Tests

For 15 years, LAUSD educators have prepared students with test strategies to raise scores, enhance college applications.

Zheniah Houston, a junior at Dorsey High School in Los Angeles, was one of 1,500 LAUSD students who recently spent part of their Saturday at UCLA two weeks ago, attending workshops in preparation to take the Advanced Placement (AP) tests that will be administered this month. The half-day event on April 18, which has been presented by UCLA’s Center X for the last 15 years, featured teachers and educators from throughout LAUSD who provided their expertise in ten subject areas to ensure students’ success on the AP tests – and that the students will achieve scores that can bolster their admission to college.

“It helps because you have your own teacher, and you know the way she lectures,” said Houston, who attended a session titled, “Argumentation with Thesis Statements Review,” led by retired high school English teacher Patricia Ellis. “But then you hear from another teacher and get their point of view, and you get methods and strategies you can use on the test. That’s always helpful.”

Center X’s AP Readiness Program is held monthly from September to April, in eight four-hour sessions, leading up to the AP exams in May. Instruction and support is offered in Biology, Chemistry, Computer Science, Environmental Science and Physics, Calculus AB, Calculus BC and Statistics, Mathematics, English Language, and English Literature. The program draws attendees from 73 Los Angeles Area schools, with an range of 1,600 – 3,900 students and 125 – 230 educators per event.

Annamarie Francois, executive director of Center X, said that UCLA’s educator preparation and development programs are poised to effect change in education in Los Angeles.

“UCLA’s Center X has a long standing history of providing services like AP Readiness to educators across Los Angeles through a strong and respected portfolio of professional development opportunities offered by the California Subject Matter Projects, grant funded initiatives in the areas of computer science, mobile technology and teacher innovation, and transformative school partnerships,” she said. “We are incredibly proud and encouraged by the positive effects AP Readiness has had on its participating teachers and students. Our attention to providing innovative, research-based educator development opportunities continues to improve teaching and learning in Los Angeles for all students.”

Ellis, who has worked with the UCLA Writing Project since 2000 and taught AP classes for teachers at UCLA from 2002 to 2008, said that the workshops were beneficial for students, and that while she typically does not learn how the students did on the tests, she consistently receives positive feedback from them.

“I think whenever you can spend this extra time [preparing], you really do have an advantage,” said Ellis, who has participated in the AP Readiness workshops for five years. “I really try to encourage them, whether it’s writing by themselves, working together with a partner, or [sharing their writing] on the board and having the other kids respond to it.”

Stephen Lange, a math teacher from Hollywood High School, led an AP workshop on
Stephen Lange, a math teacher from Hollywood High School, led a workshop on preparing for the AP CalcAB Exam.

James Keipp, director of the AP Readiness Program at UCLA’s Center X, said that past results have shown that students who attend AP Readiness earn a qualifying score of 3 at a 20 percent greater rate than the LAUSD average. He added that students who attend the workshops also pass at a 10-12 percent higher rate than their classmates who do not attend, and that both students and teachers have shown a 95 percent satisfaction rate with the AP Readiness program.

Keipp says that the AP Readiness Program at Center X responds to a great need throughout LAUSD for better preparation for students.

“There was both anecdotal evidence and empirical evidence that LAUSD students were trailing area districts in Advanced Placement results,” he said. “There was also data that under-served and female students did not score at the rate of others. One of our data collection points asks if students have outside instructional support – AP prep classes – besides AP Readiness and 90 percent say they do not have additional support.”

Stephen Lange, a mathematics teacher at Hollywood High School, first participated in the AP Readiness Program as an observing teacher, and was invited by Keipp to lead workshops due to the high demand from students for assistance in that subject. Last month, he presented a session on “What You Must Know Cold for the AP CalcAB Exam.”

“The AP Readiness Program gives students a great college atmosphere and places them with other motivated students, who work with experienced teachers who are knowledgeable about AP content and the skills they need to succeed,” he says.

Ellis was an AP Reader for the College Board and has taught AP workshops for teachers for seven years, and says that the experience has given her insight into what students need to do well on the exam.

“After teaching AP Lit and Language to many students in very different high schools, I had developed lessons and strategies that I could impart to students prepping for the exam,” she said. “I think students benefit from working with different instructors and have the chance to learn something at these sessions that can spark a new understanding and move them toward acquiring new skills. Also, I think the commitment to coming [to UCLA] on a Saturday shows something about the willingness of these students to be as prepared as possible for the exam, and that commitment is certainly a factor in their success.”

Houston, who has attended AP Readiness workshops at UCLA twice this spring, would agree.

“Now that I’ve been here a second time, it’s kind of fun,” she said. “At our school, our teacher has [AP] tutoring every Thursday. After school, we go in there and work on other [test] strategies. I’m pretty confident.”

 

 Above: Patricia Ellis, a UCLA Writing Project participant and retired LAUSD English teacher, taught English language for high school students during Center X’s AP Readiness workshops.