Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department

Secondary Education

Major Professor

J. Howard Johnston, Ph.D.

Co-Major Professor

James A. Duplass, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Bárbara C. Cruz, Ed.D.

Committee Member

Robert Dedrick, Ph.D.


Advanced Placement, high-stakes testing, student diversity, teacher planning


Florida has experienced some of the greatest growth of Advanced Placement (AP) programs in recent years and student scores on the AP exams have evolved into a highly significant metric in evaluating student proficiency and teacher and school effectiveness. Despite this growth, it is not well known how AP teachers make decisions about the content they teach, what learning activities they select, how much the AP exam influences their decision making, how they modify learning opportunities for diverse learners, and how they prepare their students for the College Board AP exam. This interpretive, phenomenological study examines the lived experiences of four AP U.S. History teachers whose students consistently achieve pass rates above the Florida average. The study examines how these teachers interpret competing environmental factors, construct meaning, and develop course plans and classroom environments for their students that lead to successful outcomes.

Four successful AP U.S. History teachers were selected from a large school district in central Florida and invited to participate in the study. Participants were purposefully selected to create a sample where all participants possessed the "intensity" characteristic of successful student performance but where variability in the high school settings and individual teacher demographics were maximized. Data collection consisted of a pre-interview survey, a classroom observation, and three one-hour semi-structured interviews for each participant. The four participants' data were used to construct interpretive phenomenological narratives to share the lived experiences of these successful AP teachers. Additionally, analysis of participant data yielded participant and inter-participant themes. Findings indicate that the successful teachers in this study were highly organized, developed supportive and caring classrooms, and designed their courses, in large part, based on their own personal beliefs about what a college experience should be like. While all teachers in this study reported considerable academic diversity in their individual classrooms, the greatest effects of academic diversity were seen when comparing teachers in different academically performing schools where teachers adapted their pacing, content, and methods to the academic skills of their students. The significant impact of the AP exam on all dimensions of teacher course planning and decision making was clearly evident throughout this study. Implications of these findings are that educators and administrators should select AP teachers carefully, recognize that the academic characteristics of students influence these classrooms, and be cognizant that they surrender a significant degree of control over content and skills taught in these types of classes. Furthermore, given the nature and size of the current AP program, policymakers and the College Board should examine whether they provide sufficient curricular-instructional guidance to teachers, students, and other stakeholders.