Carolyn M. Callahan
Robin M. Kyburg
Although limited research exists on the appropriateness of Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) Programs for gifted secondary learners, these courses serve as the primary methods of meeting the needs of gifted students in most high schools. This qualitative study employed a grounded theory approach to investigate how teachers conceptualize and implement curriculum and instruction in AP and IB courses and how students enrolled in AP and IB classes perceive and evaluate their learning experiences in these environments. Interviews with and observations of 200 teachers and 300 students in 23 high schools revealed that the end-of-course AP and IB exams drove most teachers’ curricular and instructional decisions. Most AP and IB teachers also perceived the students in their courses as a homogeneous group of successful, self-motivated, and driven students. Accordingly, the curriculum and instruction within AP and IB courses was largely one-size-fits-all and fast-paced. Most AP and IB students perceived these courses to be the most challenging and satisfying of any courses they had taken, and described them as a welcome “escape” from general education and even honors courses. However, some students, including students from traditionally underrepresented populations and students who did not fit the “AP/IB mold” of long-time school success—did not perceive the one-size-fits-all, fast-paced courses to be a good fit for their needs. Many AP and IB students also noted that the very heavy workload in these courses left them little time for sleep or other activities; however, most students believed that the benefits they would accrue from completing these courses, such as admission to elite colleges and universities and earning college credits, was worth the hard work. Implications of these findings and recommendations for increasing the goodness of fit of AP and IB courses for—and consequently increasing the participation of—students from a wide variety of backgrounds are discussed.
Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate Programs: A “Fit” for Gifted Learners?
Carolyn M. Callahan
Robin M. Kyburg
- Many gifted secondary learners appreciate the opportunities provided by Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) Programs; however, a “one-size-fits-all” approach to instruction and the tendency of these programs to equate “volume” with “challenge” may drive some students away, while limiting learning for those who do remain involved.
- Reducing the breadth of content in AP and IB classes in favor of debate, discussion and other in-depth learning opportunities might promote a more lasting, conceptual understanding of content while better serving a broader range of learning styles.
- Shifting the focus in AP and IB classes from external gains such as acceptance into selective colleges, college credit, and academic “cache,” to genuine engagement could better serve participants by fostering the desire to pursue individual interests and promoting learning for learning’s sake.
- The consistency and quality of AP and IB courses could be improved by ensuring that teachers have adequate and rigorous AP and IB training.
- School personnel as well as AP and IB Program representatives should strive to include a more diverse group of learners in AP and IB programs by actively recruiting members of ethnic minorities, students from low SES backgrounds, twice-exceptional gifted learners, and other students who have not traditionally participated in AP or IB programs.
- AP and IB teachers should be provided with skills for differentiating curriculum and instruction for students with a broad variety of backgrounds, skills and learning styles.
- To meet the needs of more gifted and potentially gifted secondary learners, schools must offer students options for advanced learning that extend beyond AP and IB courses.