Guided Learning

Breaking Down Barriers

A Multiphase Approach to Transforming Your Scheduling Practices and Unlocking Lifelong Opportunity for Students

Steven Gering, EdD and Wendy Watson, EdD

Phase 4: Collecting and Analyzing Course Requests

“K-12 schools and districts should work to increase the number of students who take rigorous courses….Compelling evidence also shows that providing access to advanced coursework by screening all students – rather than just admitting those who volunteer to take, or are enrolled by their parents in, more rigorous classes – can identify and prepare more students with the potential to succeed, especially students of color.”1Chingos, Matthew M. “What Matters Most for College Completion? Academic Preparation is a Key to Success.”  Urban Institute, 2018, Washington, DC.

Course requests play a pivotal role in the strategic scheduling process, providing a foundation on which to align district and school objectives with students’ aspirations. They go beyond class selection, acting as a strategic tool to create a holistic and adaptable learning environment that supports student growth and prepares them for success in college and career. Furthermore, the accuracy and completeness of these requests directly affect the overall schedule quality and student outcomes. It is critically important to evaluate the results of the course request process against the goals and metrics established in Phase 1. If course requests are not aligned with the school’s goals, scheduling teams should pause here to directly intervene with students whose requests can be strengthened and make these changes before moving to the next phase of strategic scheduling.

Collect Course Requests

In the previous phase, schools designed an intentional course request process that aligned with the district’s CCR goals. Now it is time to execute this process. Collecting course requests for a college and career-going culture relies on personalized registration forms that clearly represent a school’s intent to enroll students in courses that will prepare them for life after high school. The students’ course choices will communicate their intentions and make transparent their understanding, or lack of understanding, of the impact high school course-taking has on future opportunities. To personalize the registration form, provide space for a student to identify several career interests and one or two career pathways. 

This process needs to provide students and families with the information regarding necessary coursework so that students reach their postsecondary goals. As previously mentioned, a registration process that reflects the minimum district and state requirements for graduation will result in fewer students being prepared to meet college entrance requirements. For example, colleges suggest students take four years of math, but a state may require only three years of math. The school has an opportunity to preload the registration form with four years of math and students write in the specific math course they’ll take. Because students may change their college and career aspirations over the course of high school, this strategy assures that students have taken a set of coursework that will provide a multitude of options after high school.

Another critical component of the course request process lies in parent communication and engagement. Schools and districts making large gains have typically moved past sending the course requests home with students or via mail and instead actively engage families as part of the process. Schools often host a forum for students to present their course plan with a teacher and parent/guardian present. This provides a time to talk about the students’ overall progress as it applies to future aspirations with a chance for the family to offer input and guidance for their student’s course requests. The process enables students to take ownership of their learning while they discuss their college and career plans, academic progress, and general well-being.

When data indicates large disparities in student course enrollment, it is necessary to actively recruit students as part of the course registration process. Ideally, this active student recruitment takes place in Phases 2 and 3. Phase 4 provides the first opportunity to see the impacts of the recruitment efforts. If identified metrics and goals have not been met, school and district leaders can use this phase to course correct. 

At this point, additional data sources can be incredibly helpful in identifying more students to recruit into intense coursework. Data sources that schools commonly use to expand student access include the following:

  • Test scores.
  • Teacher recommendations.
  • Student survey data.
  • GPA data.
  • Career aspiration survey data.

Again, the purpose of gathering additional data is not to use the data to exclude student access to courses. In contrast, schools should use data exclusively to identify students who are not currently accessing intense coursework and would likely benefit from adding stretch courses to their course selection for the upcoming school year. 

Best Practice in Action

Using Test Scores to Expand Access: PSAT SCORES and AP POTENTIAL

  • Embed in the school day: Districts using this strategy embed the PSAT as part of the school day. 
  • Eliminate cost as a barrier: The district covers the assessment cost, eliminating any financial barriers for students and families and ensuring that 100% of students and families have access. 
  • Share results with students and families and act upon the results: After each school receives the results, offer individualized assistance to all students and families to help them understand the results and provide access to free tutoring and test preparation resources. The school provides additional opportunities for staff members to understand the data and incorporate changes into their curriculum materials.
  • Act on the results: Schools and districts use AP Potential as a free resource to generate lists of students who would likely benefit from intense coursework. Staff members have access to the lists as part of the registration process and use the lists exclusively to recruit students and expand access — they do not use the lists as a tool to discourage enrollment. Students with lower scores are provided the same access but also are targeted for additional support and assistance to ensure their success in the coursework (see Phase 7). This demonstrates a school’s commitment to providing personalized support and advising for students’ postsecondary pursuits. 

A schedule cannot be built with incomplete data. Schedulers must ensure that student course requests are both accurate and complete for the entire student body before proceeding. This allows scheduling teams to make strategic decisions regarding how many sections of each course to offer, teacher caseloads, and resource allocation – all critical components of strategic scheduling.

Analyze Course Requests

In the midst of the hectic scheduling process, one often overlooked yet crucial step is the analysis of student course requests. School leaders must ensure that sufficient time is allocated for staff members to benchmark student course request data for the upcoming school year against identified goals, carefully examining each student’s course choices in the context of their college and career aspirations. It is equally important to verify each student’s comprehension of their postsecondary goals.

To execute this analysis effectively, the first step involves reviewing completed student registration forms. During this review, it is essential to establish clear criteria for assessment, including identifying seniors who may have omitted math courses hoping it goes unnoticed or recognizing students enrolled in courses misaligned with their goals or inconsistent with the district’s CCR initiatives. Administrators and counselors should be readily available to address staff inquiries. Encouraging cross-departmental communication among staff members is also valuable, allowing for clarifications on course selection patterns. In cases where unique questions arise that require the expertise of a counselor, staff should flag those students’ schedules. Counselors can then collaborate with students to clarify or communicate changes to their initially chosen courses, ensuring there are no unexpected surprises.

For courses that schools have identified as high priority for increasing access, it is advisable for leaders to enlist staff support in reviewing lists of students already signed up for intensive courses. Additionally, staff can identify additional students who may benefit from targeted recruitment efforts. Teachers, in particular, can play an active role in student recruitment, directly engaging with students in their classrooms before the course request phase.

After leaders engage staff in the first round of analysis, the process continues with targeted intervention. For an in-depth look at student registration, counselors and administrators should complete a CCR scan of each registration form. Administrative teams should set aside time to review forms that staff have flagged and double-check for student course choices that meet the school’s CCR initiatives. 

When students decide to challenge themselves, they place themselves in a vulnerable position where the possibility of not succeeding can affect their self-confidence and hinder their future academic progress. It is crucial for schools to assess students’ course requests in relation to their test scores and grades. This evaluation ensures that students are increasing the intensity of their academics appropriately and that the necessary support structures are in place to help them succeed.

This CCR scan must also involve a preemptive look at enrollment choices of historically underserved student groups for another opportunity for outreach and recruitment. Schools that utilize scheduling tools like Abl Scheduler can fine-tune this outreach once they have uploaded schedule information in the scheduling system. Advanced scheduling tools can quickly demonstrate enrollment patterns in advanced coursework to provide a clear guide for recruitment efforts.


Course requests are the most important input for adaptive leaders adopting the strategic scheduling process. There is a tendency to move directly into building the schedule without examining course requests, but that is a mistake. It is impossible to build a schedule that advances the school and district CCR goals from course requests that are not in alignment with those goals. Analyzing the data and altering the course requests by actively recruiting students into intense coursework is one of the most critical components of the strategic scheduling cycle. 

Up Next

Phase 5: Strategic Resource Allocation

This is another underestimated phase of the strategic scheduling cycle. Leaders often make significant gains in Phases 1-4 and then undo some or all of the realized gains by not actively paying attention to Phase 5. When leaders are making decisions regarding the number of sections of each course to offer and reconciling this with their overall staffing allocations, they make hundreds of decisions along the way. And these individual small decisions can have a significant impact on the overall goals and outcomes.


Strategic Resource