Our District's Profile
Katy Independent School District (Katy ISD) is a fast-growing school district located just west of Houston. More than 50,000 students attend the 27 elementary schools, 10 junior high schools, and 6 high schools. Two of the high schools have been in existence for less than three years and are in the process of developing their AP programs. The student enrollment is 54.9 percent Caucasian, 25.7 percent Hispanic, 9.1 percent African American, 8.1 percent Asian, and 2 percent Native American; 23.3 percent of our students are low income. In addition to the rapid growth in enrollment of approximately 6 percent per year, it is expected that the district will continue to diversify and become a minority-majority district by the year 2010. Consequently, Katy ISD's established AP program -- which continues to develop and to serve more and more students -- now faces challenges arising from increasing racial and ethnic diversity and from the addition of teachers who haven't yet taught AP.
How We Started Our Work on the Audit
As district officials became aware of the requirements and procedures related to the College Board's AP Course Audit, we began to examine methods to manage the process, with the goal that every AP teacher and every campus receive the authorization for their AP courses. We knew we had decisions to make about how to manage the AP Course Audit and communicate the process to veteran teachers, new teachers, and campus administration.
We decided that, while the AP Course Audit is designed to be teacher- and campus-based, the district administration would play a central role in communicating the requirements, managing the process, and coordinating the submissions. We would communicate information about the AP Course Audit directly both to each campus administration and to every AP teacher. Our goal was, and still is, to create a common understanding of the process and an awareness of the support that the district will provide. We realized that we must make direct contact with every AP teacher in order to ensure that all faculty members have the information necessary to respond to the requirements.
The district coordination of communication will guarantee that each teacher and campus administrator gets the same information. Given the demands on teachers and campus administrators, both groups have welcomed this support. District support has also included collaboration between district curriculum specialists (content specialists who support instruction and write curriculum) and the district department that oversees the Advanced Placement program.
Our Own Internal, Districtwide, Syllabi Audit
We decided to evaluate the level of preparedness of our teachers by conducting our own internal district audit using both the draft AP Course Audit documents provided by the College Board in fall 2005 and current course documents being used by teachers. In addition to providing information about readiness level, our internal audit served as a mechanism to present the upcoming AP Course Audit and our teachers' role in it. Furthermore, the internal audit provided essential information about the ability of our teachers to effectively communicate the implementation of the AP Course Audit's curricular and resource requirements through their syllabi.
Katy ISD curriculum specialists evaluated the documents submitted by AP teachers for the internal audit. This assessment drove additional decisions; we discovered that our teachers possessed a wide range of understanding as to what constitutes a syllabus and the information it should include.
Need for Shared Syllabi
These curriculum specialists recommended the development of a common district syllabus for each AP course that would serve as a foundation for every instructor. Each teacher could then personalize the district core syllabus with assignments and assessments unique to individual instruction. Such syllabi would include core curricular and resource elements that a teacher could edit and personalize. Only in rare cases did our teachers' instructional practices vary so greatly that a common syllabus seemed unnecessary. For every course, this core syllabus would then be used by new AP teachers as a cornerstone for their instruction -- such professional development is an important consideration in our fast-growth district.
In order to develop common core syllabi, we arranged four opportunities for teachers to collaborate during the summer of 2006. During these sessions, teachers heard an overview of the AP Course Audit and met with other teachers of the same AP course. To begin designing the syllabi to be submitted for the College Board's audit, they reviewed the syllabi submitted for the internal audit, the finalized College Board curricular and resource requirements, and the elements required of each course's syllabus.
By bringing our AP teachers together in collaborative sessions, providing the opportunity to share information and talk about their content and their craft, we witnessed the collective realization that the commonalities outnumbered the individual practices. The teachers combined these common elements into a core syllabus to be shared by all who teach the course. (As the syllabi were developed, the documents were sent to a central office for posting in a content-specific folder on our server, accessible to all teachers of that course.)
Personalizing Each Syllabus
Emphasizing the value that each teacher brings to the instruction of an AP course is important in honoring their efforts in the classroom. So while a district syllabus for each course was generated, teachers have the opportunity to individualize the document to demonstrate their own instructional style and preferences. The AP Course Audit process establishes the expectation that the syllabus the teacher submits represents her or his actual practice. We emphasized that teachers shape their own syllabi not only to meet the AP Course Audit requirements but also to reflect their day-to-day professional practice and improve their students' understanding of course standards. We encouraged teachers to create a document that, with little editing, could serve multiple purposes.
When the College Board announced it would begin to accept submissions in January 2007, we used the additional time to incorporate another dimension into the collaboration. Our AP teachers, in most cases, are often the only ones teaching the AP course on a campus. The collaborative sessions during the summer demonstrated the value of bringing these teachers together from across the district. We took advantage of common planning time during district in-service days to examine data from AP Potential™ and each course-specific AP Instructional Planning Report to evaluate the current program. Content groups of AP teachers analyzed these data to assess curriculum and instruction. In many cases, this was the first opportunity AP teachers had to participate in a conversation with other AP teachers about the impact this information has on their instruction.
We have made a conscious effort to emphasize the role of our AP teachers and to honor their professionalism. Each AP teacher has the responsibility to reflect on her or his individual practice and communicate her or his understanding of the curricular and resource requirements for the course to the College Board. Bringing AP teachers together provides the support they may need to articulate their instruction.
Unexpected Benefits of Our Audit Processes
On August 4, 2006, we assembled AP teachers from all disciplines together in a professional development session. During the introductions, each teacher stated her or his name, course, level of experience with the Advanced Placement Program, and participation, if any, in the AP Reading. The AP Course Audit has provided a reason to bring AP teachers together, to emphasize their role in the district's AP program, and to highlight each teacher's membership in the broader AP community. Developing the connection to the global AP community encourages teachers to move beyond their own experience and investigate opportunities for personal and professional growth.
Throughout this process, teachers need support in understanding the requirements of the AP Course Audit, their role in the process, district expectations for participation, and the time to collaborate with colleagues. When we asked AP teachers what assistance they needed, they most often mentioned "time for collaboration." We learned to find time for teachers to talk with other AP teachers about the demands of the syllabus and with other content groups about their course work.
The AP Course Audit has produced unanticipated benefits for Katy ISD. It has brought AP teachers from isolated classrooms into a network of AP teachers in our district and into the global AP community. It has provided opportunities for collaboration and sharing that is rarely accomplished between high schools. It has also provided another vehicle for supporting teachers new to AP by connecting them to a network of educators. When first faced with the AP Course Audit, we were primarily concerned with getting through the submission successfully. However, our experience with teachers has altered our perception. The requirements of the AP Course Audit provide opportunities for teachers from across the district to engage in rich conversation about best instructional methods, data-driven decisions, and a deepening understanding of course content.
Alene Zimmer is the director of Gifted and Talented and Advanced Academic Studies for the Katy Independent School District in Katy, Texas. She has been involved with the AP Program in multiple capacities, including as a teacher of AP Economics and of AP Government and Politics and as an AP Economics Reader and Table Leader. Zimmer currently serves on the College Board's Southwestern Regional Council.