Exploring Teacher Perceptions of Underrepresented Students in Advanced Placement Classes
Background: Across the country, Advanced Placement® (AP®) course demographics are drastically different than the populations of the whole school. While action has been taken by the College Board to expand access and ensure potential to succeed, the reality is that these AP classes serve as a haven for traditionally higher-tracked students. Purpose: The primary goals of this study are to understand teacher perceptions of underrepresented students in AP classes, to explore their perceptions about rigor, access, and expectations in the classroom, and to understand teachers’ ideas about the value of AP coursework and communicating the value to students. Results from this study can provide feedback to stakeholders on how to better provide equity and access to historically underrepresented students. Methods: A qualitative case study was conducted and the following research question was investigated: What are the teacher perceptions about underrepresented students in AP classes with regards to open-access, differentiation, rigor, and the purpose and value of these classes? The development of survey questions for this study resulted from the use of a perception survey in a pilot study. Findings from the survey informed the refinement of questions used in the individual interviews. Four follow-up interviews provided a triangulation to assist in determining a better understanding of teacher perceptions. The data was collected from the interviews and coded to determine major patterns and themes pertaining to perceptions. Results: Teachers indicated that prior experience and student dispositions strongly dictated whether a student would be successful in an AP class. Teachers exhibited colorblind responses and perceived students in a mainly academic light instead of viewing students’ identity. Teachers did not demonstrate a comprehensive understanding of differentiation or culturally responsive teaching. Conclusion: The findings suggest that AP teachers could benefit from more knowledge of culturally- responsive pedagogy and additional time to collaborate on ways to better present college- level material to students from diverse backgrounds. By exploring teacher perceptions of historically underrepresented students, this study provides insight on how to provide equity and allow willing students’ opportunities to succeed in advanced curriculum.