As a teacher, I learned what students needed to succeed in Advanced Placement courses.

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WHAT makes for a successful accelerated-learning student can be boiled down to motivation and attitude.

Several years ago I took the summer training to be an Advanced Placement United States History teacher at a small public high school in the Seattle area. The 10 students who signed up for the class in the spring, consisting of a population reflective of the racial and ethnic makeup of the school, were contacted during the summer to come in and get the assignment to be completed before the first day of school in the fall.

In the eyes of the school principal, however, any student who passed the Washington Assessment of Student Learning test should be enrolled in that class, and 16 more were subsequently enrolled. The class had 26 students that first day. Most of that latter group essentially were Caucasians who did not sign up for the class and were surprised and even angered to find themselves there.

‘My take’

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Imagine a teacher assigned to a college-level high school class half of the students were not interested or motivated to take, let alone succeed in. As the year progressed, more and more class time was wasted with discipline and other classroom-management issues, with literally half the class being unprepared for class sessions that involved much reading and writing to be done outside of class.

Students began transferring out of the class right and left, and as they did classroom-management issues subsided. At the end of the first semester the class totaled 10 students. All but one was from the group that originally signed up for the class; two were African American.

Only seven students actually took the AP test that May. Scores ranged from 2 to 5, with 5 being the rare highest score for Advanced Placement tests. It would be easy to simply say I failed as an AP teacher, but it would be more accurate to say if a student is highly motivated and willing to do the work to succeed in a college-level class, success is entirely more likely.

The student who scored a 5 was African American, a delightful student who helped other students, signed up for the class in the spring and was featured in a Times article of medical students seeking a career in medicine a few weeks back. Not surprisingly, she led her group in the required final project and got an A in the class.