How schools can support students in accessing advanced courses, and what students think can be done better

Blog, Course Access Page

Across New York State, many Black, Latinx, and American Indian students and students from low-income backgrounds do not have access to advanced courses or are underenrolled in such courses. Bill S.1111A/A.4407A , which is up for consideration, would improve access and is critical to preparing students for careers, college, and civic life. The New York Equity Coalition hosted discussion groups with students to hear why this equity issue is so critical. The three-part Equitable Access Now blog series shares what they had to say in their own words. 

 “Students should have the opportunity [to take advanced courses] even if other people may think it’s going to be hard for them because you truly never know what is hard for you until you attempt it,” said Sheldelynn, a 12th grade student. “Nothing is impossible.” 

The students who participated in our discussion groups believe in opportunity, and agree that all students should be able to take or try advanced coursework to discover their interests and prepare for what comes next after graduation. 

But how do students think schools can increase opportunity now and in the long term? From offering pre-work to advanced courses, hybrid instruction options, and more, students have plenty of ideas on how their schools can either improve what they’re already doing or implement new supports. 

New York schools are receiving an unprecedented amount of federal and state aid funding from the American Rescue Plan Act and Foundation Aid that must, in part, be allocated to reimagining how schools can support students in accessing and taking advanced coursework now and in the future.  

One short-term solution for school support, students said, is to make tutoring more readily available, and provide programs where students can complete pre-work to be enrolled in advanced courses.  

Genoveva, a 10th grade student, recommended pre-work study halls or free periods. “Then [students can connect] with people who are going through what you’re going through,” she said.  

And Kensey, a ninth grade student, added on to the importance of meeting students where they’re at. “While taking AP classes and preparing students to take them, schools could see where we are and try to work us up from there, instead of putting people on the same level and not really helping those who don’t understand.”  

For schools with dual enrollment options, where a student can take a college-level course in high school, students should be given a chance to try to take the course without it negatively impacting them. This would encourage students to challenge themselves. 

“You can’t get out once you’re in, so you have to try your best in that class,” said Ashley, a 12th grade student. “Maybe [a student] wants to try, but then if they end up struggling, that lowers their GPA.”  

A trial period could be the option to attend a class virtually. Although many students prefer in-person over remote learning, all agreed that students should have options to choose what works best for their learning styles. A hybrid learning option through their districts could offer more advanced classes outside of what’s available at their schools.  

For example, teachers who are skilled in a particular subject could opt to teach extra classes for compensation, and those classes would be open to students districtwide. Additionally, schools can build more relationships with local higher education institutions to offer college coursework. 

This flexibility of a hybrid option could help more students join based on their schedules. 

“On Saturdays, I’m trying to take college classes and most of them are from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.,” said David, an 11th grade student. “I have to work during those times, but if there was a way for me to join at a later time, I definitely would.” 

Above all, aside from the practical solutions shared, students want adults to respect their decisions. Many agreed that school staff should listen more to students on whether or not they feel comfortable taking a course or their reasoning for why they want to take the course.  

With new funding this year, New York has the chance to invest significantly in access to advanced coursework and more supports for students. We must listen to students’ experiences and ideas, as highlighted here, so that they receive the high-quality education and opportunities they deserve.