School ini­tia­tive’s test-tak­ers stand out

Pro­gram par­tic­i­pants field nearly half of state’s col­lege-credit qual­i­fiers

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - CYN­THIA HOW­ELL

The 61 high schools that par­tic­i­pated in the Arkansas Ad­vanced Ini­tia­tive for Math and Sci­ence pro­gram last school year pro­duced al­most half of the state’s Ad­vanced Place­ment math, sci­ence and English test-tak­ers and 44 per­cent of the scores that qual­i­fied stu­dents for col­lege credit.

Stu­dents who earn col­lege credit for their high school work can re­al­ize sav­ings in col­lege tu­ition costs or have the time to take more ad­vanced-level col­lege cour­ses be­cause they have com­pleted in­tro­duc­tory cour­ses.

The ini­tia­tive schools make up 23 per­cent of the state’s 261 high schools in which stu­dents took Ad­vanced Place­ment tests in math, sci­ence and English in 2016-17, Ken James, pres­i­dent of the Arkansas ini­tia­tive, said in re­leas­ing the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s an­nual re­port.

The Arkansas ini­tia­tive, a non­profit cor­po­ra­tion af­fil­i­ated with the Na­tional Math and Sci­ence Ini­tia­tive since 2008 and based at the Univer­sity of Arkansas at Lit­tle Rock, pro­vides course con­tent train­ing to teach­ers of Ad­vanced Place­ment and pre-Ad­vanced Place­ment cour­ses, James said.

It also pro­vides tu­tor­ing for stu­dents in the par­tic­i­pat­ing schools in prepa­ra­tion for the year-end Ad­vanced Place­ment ex­ams that are made by

the Col­lege Board, which is also the maker of the SAT col­lege-en­trance exam.

The high schools in the ini­tia­tive are lo­cated through­out the state and vary in size.

They in­clude Booneville, El Do­rado, Greene County Tech, Lake Hamil­ton, Green­brier, and both Spring­dale high schools — all of which have been par­tic­i­pat­ing since the ini­tia­tive’s first year in 2008-09. Some of the oth­ers are Ben­tonville, Rus­sel­lville, Pea Ridge, Du­mas, Cros­sett, Con­way, Arkadel­phia, Beebe, Star City and sev­eral schools in the Lit­tle Rock and Pu­laski County Spe­cial dis­tricts. Jack­sonville High School is one. The eSTEM and KIPP char­ter schools are also re­cip­i­ents of the course con­tent train­ing for teach­ers and the stu­dent tu­tor­ing pro­vided by the ini­tia­tive.

All 305 Arkansas pub­lic high schools by law must of­fer at least four Ad­vanced Place­ment cour­ses, but stu­dents aren’t re­quired to take the Ad­vanced Place­ment ex­ams, re­sult­ing in some schools not hav­ing math, sci­ence and English test re­sults.

Mag­net Cove High School be­gan par­tic­i­pat­ing in the ini­tia­tive in the 2015-16 school year.

Jeff Eskola, prin­ci­pal of Mag­net Cove High School, praised the ini­tia­tive Mon­day, say­ing that it has given both teach­ers and stu­dents the con­fi­dence to take on the more chal­leng­ing Ad­vanced Place­ment cour­ses, as ev­i­denced by the in­creased stu­dent en­roll­ment in the cour­ses.

“Our num­bers have gone way up but, with the num­bers, our scores are go­ing up, too,” Eskola said. “It’s not just the same two or three stu­dents get­ting scores of 3 or 4s. There are some stu­dents you hope and they pray they will score well, and they blow it to the roof.”

School dis­tricts — par­tic­u­larly those that have joined the ini­tia­tive in more re­cent years — have to pay fees for the ser­vices pro­vided by James and his staff of con­tent ex­perts. That can be $15,000 to $25,000 a year de­pend­ing on the school size, James said.

“When you look at what you get out of it, it is worth ev­ery dime,” Eskola said of the train­ing and teach­ing strate­gies.

“They could dou­ble it and I would pay ev­ery dime,” he said of the cost. “There is no way I would switch.”

In the past and con­tin­u­ing in some high schools, there have been awards to both teach­ers and stu­dents for suc­cess on the Ad­vanced Place­ment cour­ses. In Mag­net Cove, stu­dents who earn a 3 or bet­ter can ex­pect a day off from school. Teach­ers, Eskola said, get “lots of pats on the back” for good scores. He also noted that the district has a grow­ing en­roll­ment and has pro­vided pay in­creases to all staff mem­bers in re­cent years.

The 61 schools in the Ad­vanced Ini­tia­tive for Math and Sci­ence last school year com­prised 13,322, or 48 per­cent, of the math, sci­ence and English ex­ams taken in the state and 3,824, or 44 per­cent, of the scores of 3, 4 or 5 that made stu­dents el­i­gi­ble for col­lege credit or ac­cel­er­ated col­lege course place­ment, ac­cord­ing to the re­cently re­leased re­port.

A to­tal of 27,678 math, sci­ence and English Ad­vanced Place­ment ex­ams were ad­min­is­tered in Arkansas this past school year, and there were a to­tal of 8,609 qual­i­fy­ing scores.

Ad­di­tion­ally, the ini­tia­tive schools com­prised 3,867, or 61 per­cent, of the 6,310 math, sci­ence and English ex­ams taken by stu­dents who are black or His­panic.

A state to­tal of 886 stu­dents who are black or His­panic earned qual­i­fy­ing scores. Fifty-four per­cent, or 482, of those stu­dents were in the 61 schools that par­tic­i­pated in the ini­tia­tive this past school year.

Arkansas leads the na­tion in the in­creased per­cent­age of black and His­panic stu­dents earn­ing qual­i­fy­ing scores in the Ad­vanced Place­ment math and sci­ence ex­ams since 2008, ac­cord­ing to the re­port.

James, a for­mer com­mis­sioner of the Arkansas De­part­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion who will re­tire from the ini­tia­tive at year’s end, said the ini­tia­tive trained over 700 teach­ers last school year for both Ad­vanced Place­ment and pre-Ad­vanced Place­ment cour­ses.

“I’ve been in this busi­ness for a long time and the beauty of AIMS to me is the con­tent work that the teach­ers get work­ing with our con­tent di­rec­tors in sci­ence, math and English,” he said. “It’s di­rectly re­lated to what they are do­ing in the class­room. We have our teach­ers eval­u­ate our work­shops and they all give us the same kind of feed­back: ‘This is some­thing I can put into prac­tice when I go back to my class­room this week.’”

He also noted that the skills the teach­ers hone in the train­ing ses­sions go be­yond the Ad­vanced Place­ment cour­ses that they teach and into their other cour­ses. “They are re­ally touch­ing more than the AP kids. That’s another beau­ti­ful part of this.”

As for stu­dents, the ini­tia­tive con­tin­ues to en­cour­age schools to pro­vide stu­dents with Satur­day test-prepa­ra­tion ses­sions, but that is not re­quired any longer. The ini­tia­tive has de­vel­oped on­line test-prepa­ra­tion ses­sions.

The con­tent di­rec­tors have de­vel­oped live, on­line, one­hour prepa­ra­tion ses­sions, which can be archived for teach­ers and stu­dents to use over time.

“In our first year of that we served over 34,000 kids across the state,” James said. “We’ll have as many as 200 stu­dents in a one-hour live ses­sion,” he said about the af­ter-school ses­sions that are now in their third year.

The num­ber of schools be­ing served has in­creased by 11 for this school year.

The Col­lege Board pro­duces Ad­vanced Place­ment ex­ams in dozens of sub­jects, but the Arkansas Ad­vanced Ini­tia­tive for Math and Sci­ence has fo­cused on math, sci­ence and English cour­ses since the in­cep­tion of the pro­gram that is de­signed to pro­mote stu­dent suc­cess in math and sci­ence cour­ses and ex­pand their op­por­tu­ni­ties for ca­reers in re­lated fields.

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