In the San Jose (CA) Unified School District, the Technology and Data Services and Secondary Curriculum departments are collaborating on two crucial initiatives to improve equitable outcomes for their students, of whom 53% are Hispanic, 23% are English language learners, and 46% are economically disadvantaged. Their twin areas of focus have been on increasing the number of students who are “A-G eligible” (i.e., qualified to apply to a four-year state university) and increasing the number of students, particularly low-income and minority students, who take and pass at least one AP or IB exam.

To be A-G eligible, a student must pass all required courses with a grade of C or better. Students who earn a D in one or more classes will receive a diploma, but cannot apply to four-year state colleges. The Tech and Data Services department reports A-G course grades to counselors and has created a module in the student information system to track meetings with students on grade improvement. It was hard for counselors to meet with all the students performing poorly in these courses, so school administrators began handling some meetings, taking an “all hands on deck” approach. Schools have also begun to work strategically with specific students who need the most support. In some cases, meetings with students have also led to conversations with teachers about grading practices and supportive interventions.

Since 2012-13, SJUSD has increased the percentage of students participating in AP/IB from 46% to 56%, particularly increasing the number of Hispanic and economically disadvantaged students taking part. Schools use predictive modeling to identify students with the potential for success in these courses. In February/March, counselors begin general outreach to encourage students to enroll in the fall; in April, they meet individually with eligible students who have not yet signed up.

Early in the initiative, the district focused on increasing course enrollment, but found students were not receiving enough support to succeed. Schools began offering summer prep, after-school support, and/or test prep boot camps. Outside partners such as Equal Opportunity Schools, the National Math and Science Initiative, and Stanford University have provided staff training and professional development. The district allows students who turn in a free or reduced price application to take two exams for $5 each. Thanks to these measures, the number of students passing an AP or IB exam has increased by 21%.

Buy-in and support from leadership at every level have been crucial to these programs’ success. Several times a year, the superintendent and assistants meet with principals to discuss AP/IB progress. AP/IP data and A-G success rates are reported to the school board, letting principals and teachers know that these initiatives are a high priority. The Tech and Data Services department, working closely with Secondary Curriculum, presents regularly at principal and assistant principal meetings. Assistant principal support has been a game-changer in gathering feedback and improving implementation, as assistant principals are often the school leaders who are hands-on in instructional programs. The two departments also meet with academic counselors to help them use the AP/IB and A-G data to identify and encourage students to reach the next level of success.

SJUSD will continue to reinforce the progress made in recent years. It also wants to use the data to

(1) ascertain whether the initiative has been successful for all students or only a sub-group;

(2) identify which support programs in individual schools have been the most effective; and

(3) determine how to encourage teachers to use more differentiated instruction to foster effective learning for all the students in their classrooms.     

Personnel Required
  • School site: principals, assistant principals, academic counselors
  • District office: members of Secondary Curriculum department, data team within the Technology and Data Services department, assistant superintendent and superintendent
Population Served
  • Ethnicity: 53% Hispanic, 23% white, 14% Asian, 10% other races
  • 23% of students are English Learners
  • 46% of students are socio-economically disadvantaged
  • 11% of students are enrolled in Special Education
Organization Focus

SJUSD currently has two focus areas for improving students’ pathways to adult success.

Since SJUSD has a high graduation rate (92% for the class of 2017), the focus has been on increasing college readiness. One focus area has been on increasing the number of students who are A-G eligible. In California, this is the threshold for students to be able to apply to a 4-year state or UC school. A-G eligibility requires taking appropriate college prep school courses and receiving a grade of C or better. All students must complete these courses to graduate high school, but passing any course with a grade of D makes a student ineligible to apply to a public 4-year California institution. This year, academic counselors and administrators met with students who had a D or F in A-G courses, tracking these meetings in its student information system. Some of these conversations have led to conversations with teachers about grading practices and interventions for students.

A second focus area for SJUSD over the past five years has been increasing AP/IB enrollment and performance, and particularly, increasing the number of low-income and minority students students who enroll in an AP/IB course and pass the AP/IB test. Schools use a predictive modeling system to identify students who might be successful in AP/IB courses, based on GPA, attendance, and SAT scores. Besides encouraging most students to participate in AP/IB courses, high schools also provide support for them that includes summer prep programs, after-school support, and test preparation boot camps.

Organization's Accomplishments

Since 2012-13, SJUSD has increased the percentage of students participating in AP/IB from 46% to 56%. They’ve also significantly increased the number of Hispanic and socio-economically disadvantaged students participating in AP/IB. While the percentage of students passing an AP/IB exam has remained relatively flat, the number of students passing an AP/IB test has increased by 27%. Two years ago, SJUSD implemented a new policy that allows students to take up to two AP/IB exams for $5 each if they turn in their free/reduced lunch form, thus encouraging more students to take these exams.

Important Factors for Success

Collaboration with the Secondary Curriculum department and school sites has been key to the success of these initiatives.

The Technology and Data Services department meets twice a month with the Secondary Curriculum department to discuss post-secondary support systems and other items as needed. This regular communication ensures that both departments are on the same page about initiatives, report development, and timelines.

Besides meeting regularly with the Secondary Curriculum department, Tech and Data Services staff also regularly present at monthly school leader meetings. These frequent meetings allow them to keep the lines of communication open and enable them to gather feedback from school sites on implementing different initiatives.

Last year,Tech and Data staff began attending assistant principal meetings. This proved crucial for gathering feedback and implementing new programs, as assistant principals have a deep understanding of what is going on at the schools as well as the time and resources to move projects forward.

Requirements for Success
  • Buy-in and support from curriculum department, principals and academic counselors: The Technology and Data Services department holds several meetings a year with principals and academic counselors to discuss the AP/IB program and provide reports to monitor recruitment, enrollment, and test performance. The Technology and Data Services department also collaborates with the curriculum department to provide support for success in A-G courses. This includes providing reports for counselors and administrators about grades in these courses and setting up a module in the student information system to track meetings with students.
  • Buy-In and support from Senior Leadership: Several times a year the SJUSD superintendent and assistant superintendents meet with high school principals to discuss their focus on AP/IB performance and recruitment. AP/IB participation and performance and A-G rates are shared annually with the school board. Both  initiatives show principals and teachers that these initiatives are important and valued by the district.
  • External Partnerships: External partnerships and grants have helped support these two initiatives. When SJUSD first started the AP/IB program, they partnered with EOS (Equal Opportunity Schools: to train staff on the importance of AP/IB participation and performance. One high school is partnering with the National Math and Science Institute to provide professional development to STEM teachers and test preparation for students.
  • July: load AP test scores and update AP reports
  • August/September: review AP scores with principals and assistant principals
  • October: provide Progress 1 grades to schools to complete initial meetings with students who have a D/F in an A-G course/ discuss purpose of A-G meetings with academic counselors and administrators
  • December: administer AP/IB teacher recommendation survey
  • January: meet with principals, assistant principals, and academic counselors about AP/IB recruitment; review data from previous year; provide first semester grades to counselors and principals
  • March: follow-up meetings with principals and assistant principals about AP/IB recruitment; Progress 3 meetings with students who have D/Fs in A-G courses
  • May: principals review AP/IB recruitment numbers and information with senior leadership
  • June: load A-G meeting information into data warehouse to develop reports
Overcoming Challenges
  • Continue focus on AP/IB performance in the course and on the AP/IB test. In the first years of the program, the rate of students participating in classes increased dramatically but the percent of students passing the test did not. SJUSD shifted focus to provide reports that showed students’ test scores and grades in these courses, offered opportunities for principals and academic counselors to collaborate and discuss successful interventions, and began to explore external partnerships to improve support for students.
  • Provide individual support for all students who have a D or F in an A-G course. To make this possible despite the large number of students involved, school leaders began supporting academic counselors in meeting with students. Schools have also started strategically working with specific students who need the most support.
Lessons Learned

Change is slow and on-going. Even in the 2nd or 3rd year of the initiative, time and resources are needed to continue. Prioritizing a specific initiative means other work may not get done. Strategic focus and understanding of the initiative’s importance must be embraced by senior leadership and all other employees.

Future Goals
  • For the AP/IB initiative, continue to focus on improving AP/IB participation and performance, specifically, increase the number of students who pass at least one AP/IB test. Identify which support programs have been most effective and implement these programs district-wide.
  • Continue to focus on A-G success. Use data collected from A-G meetings to evaluate the initiative’s successful overall and with student subgroups. Identify ways to help teachers to provide differentiated instruction to support all students in the classroom.
Major Takeaways
  • Buy-in from senior leadership and teachers is key.
  • Change is slow and on-going.
  • Cross-departmental collaboration leads to a cohesive and successful initiative.


San Jose Unified School District highlighted its AP/IB program at the Pathways to Adult Success October 2019 Conference (video recording here). 

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