When Zheniah Houston, a junior at Dorsey High School in Los Angeles, spent part of a recent Saturday at UCLA in a workshop titled “Argumentation with Thesis Statement Review,” she was looking for an edge.

Houston was getting ready to take the exams for her Advanced Placement classes, high-level high school courses that often count for college credit and are being administered this month. So she, like thousands of other Los Angeles Unified School District students for the past 15 years, came to UCLA to participate in AP test workshops put on by the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies’ Center X.

“It helps because you have your own teacher, and you know the way she lectures,” said Houston, who attended the workshops on April 18 along with more than 1,500 LAUSD students. “But then you hear from another teacher and get their point of view, and you get methods and strategies you can use on the test. That’s always helpful.”

The half-day event on April 18 featured teachers and educators from throughout LAUSD who provided their expertise in 10 subject areas to improve students’ success on the AP tests, thereby helping them earn scores that can improve their chances for college admission.

Center X’s AP Readiness Program is held monthly from September to April, in eight four-hour sessions, leading up to the AP exams in May. The program provides instruction and support in biology, chemistry, computer science, environmental science, physics, Calculus AB, Calculus BC, statistics and both English exams. An average of 1,500 to 3,900 students and 125 to 230 educators from 73 Los Angeles-area schools participate in the workshops.

“UCLA’s Center X has a long-standing history of providing services like AP Readiness to educators across Los Angeles,” said Annamarie Francois, executive director of Center X. Francois noted that Center X accomplishes this through professional development opportunities offered by the California Subject Matter Projects, grant-funded initiatives in computer science, mobile technology and teacher innovation, and partnerships with schools.

“We are incredibly proud and encouraged by the positive effects AP Readiness has had on its participating teachers and students,” Francois said. “Our attention to providing innovative, research-based educator development opportunities continues to improve teaching and learning in Los Angeles for all students.”

Retired high school English teacher Patricia Ellis, who was leading the workshop Houston attended, said that the workshops were beneficial for students. While she typically does not learn how the students did on the tests, Ellis said that she consistently receives positive feedback from them.

“I think whenever you can spend this extra time [preparing], you really do have an advantage,” said Ellis, who has participated in the AP Readiness workshops for five years and who has worked with the UCLA Writing Project since 2000. “I try to encourage them, whether it’s writing by themselves, working together with a partner, or [sharing their writing] on the board and having the other kids respond to it.”

James Keipp, director of the AP Readiness Program at Center X, said that past results have shown that students who attend AP Readiness earn a qualifying score of 3 at a 20 percent greater rate than the LAUSD average. He added that students who attend the workshops also pass at a 10-12 percent higher rate than their classmates who do not attend, and that both students and teachers have shown a 95 percent satisfaction rate with the AP Readiness program.

Keipp said that the AP Readiness Program at Center X responds to a great need throughout LAUSD for better preparation for students.

“There was both anecdotal evidence and empirical evidence that LAUSD students were trailing area districts in Advanced Placement results,” he said. “There was also data that under-served and female students did not score at the rate of others. One of our data collection points asks if students have outside instructional support — AP prep classes — besides AP Readiness and 90 percent say they do not have additional support.”

Stephen Lange, a mathematics teacher at Hollywood High School, first participated in the AP Readiness Program as an observing teacher, and was invited by Keipp to lead workshops due to the high demand from students for assistance in that subject. Last month, he presented a session called “What You Must Know Cold for the AP CalcAB Exam.”

“The AP Readiness Program gives students a great college atmosphere and places them with other motivated students, who work with experienced teachers who are knowledgeable about AP content and the skills they need to succeed,” Lange said.

Ellis was an AP Reader for the College Board and has taught AP workshops for teachers for seven years. She said that the experience has given her insight into what students need to do well on the exam.

“After teaching AP lit and language to many students in very different high schools, I had developed lessons and strategies that I could impart to students prepping for the exam,” she said. “I think students benefit from working with different instructors and have the chance to learn something at these sessions that can spark a new understanding and move them toward acquiring new skills. Also, I think the commitment to coming [to UCLA] on a Saturday shows something about the willingness of these students to be as prepared as possible for the exam, and that commitment is certainly a factor in their success.”

Houston, who has attended AP Readiness workshops at UCLA twice this spring, would agree.

“Now that I’ve been here a second time, it’s kind of fun,” she said. “At our school, our teacher has [AP] tutoring every Thursday. After school, we go in there and work on other [test] strategies. I’m pretty confident.”

This story was adapted from Ampersand, a publication of the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies.