By Terry Dean
The number of minority students taking advanced placement classes at Oak Park and River Forest High School has increased in recent years but is still disproportionately lower in AP classes than in the overall enrollment.
Philip Prale, OPRF's assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, estimated that total minority representation in AP courses is currently around 10 percent. That number includes black, Hispanic and Asian. While that percentage has increased in recent years, Prale insists the school is not satisfied and can do better in increasing diversity.
OPRF, he said, has actively tried to open up AP classes to more students overall, and that a 10 percent increase in minority representation moving forward was a reasonable goal. One way to increase diversity is allowing students enrolled in, for instance, certain honors courses to also take AP classes, Prale said, as well as targeting those kids to enroll in advanced placement courses.
Students, or their parents, can request to take an AP course via their school counselors, sometimes based on a recommendation by their teacher. But OPRF has faced criticism from some parents for actually discouraging black students, in particular, from enrolling. That criticism has extended to the counselors, whom some students felt discouraged them from enrolling.
Prale acknowledged those criticisms.
"Students should not be discouraged at any time during their years here at the high school," he said.
Prale, though, said students sometimes don't have the necessary prerequisites to take an AP course, or there is a scheduling issue that prevents enrollment. The students and their parents still might not feel they're getting enough support, Prale said.
"We don't want that to happen. That's not right and we shouldn't have that happen here. We absolutely should do better in that," he said.
Increasing equity in AP classes is also a goal of Jeremiah Wiencek, the school's new assistant principal for student services. He recalled his former Plainfield school district's attempt to increase diversity. A study conducted by Plainfield North High School found that a disproportionate number of minority students were enrolled in "lower level" classes. The school then created a pilot program for some of those students that eliminated those classes and allowing them to enroll in either regular or honors classes.
"Everyone was in similar tracks. There weren't any basic transition classes," Wiencek said. "Now, you need to provide some supports and interventions for students who may need to get caught up because they're not used to being in that level. But the research had found that students who were moved up and held to higher expectations were successful."
Wiencek said he'd like to find similar solutions at OPRF. Prale noted that OPRF has done something similar by eliminating certain honors course and allowing students to take AP classes instead, as well as offering support for those students.
"The AP curriculum and courses is, in and of itself, a benefit to students and you need to do what can to place more students in those courses," he said.