Denver (AP) — A pilot program to improve college readiness among Colorado teens produced more high scores on students' Advanced Placement tests — and paid $69,500 to teachers as a reward.
But it's still unclear how well the National Math and Science Initiative's AP program could work in Colorado because some incentives — such as payments to students who get high scores — were dropped when Colorado didn't get federal Race to the Top funds to fully implement the program in 2010-2011. Educators are waiting to hear whether grant money will be available to expand it in coming years.
The program, which originated in Dallas, aims to expand access to tough AP classes to lower-income students, Hispanics and African Americans, and to help them pass AP tests administered by the College Board. It uses a mix of teacher training, open enrollment in AP classes, and $100 for teachers and students for each passing score.
Seven Colorado high schools participated in 2010-2011.
The Colorado Legacy Foundation, which supported the program's expansion into Colorado, had hoped students at those schools would rack up 850 qualifying scores of 3, 4 or 5 on math, science and English AP exams, compared with 453 the previous year.
The number of students taking AP exams did rise and the pilot schools reported 695 scores of 3, 4 or 5 — a 53 percent increase. But the overall percentage of students with qualifying scores remained at around 45 percent.
That isn't necessarily a bad thing, because students in AP classes are still exposed to intense, college-level work, said Kirabo Jackson, a faculty fellow of the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern University who studied the Dallas program.
In Dallas, the program boosted enrollment in AP courses, test scores and college matriculation, though the percentage of students receiving 3s, 4s, or 5s generally held steady, Jackson found.
Jackson, who isn't affiliated with NMSI, said he studied only how the program worked in schools with larger populations of low-income students and minorities and with lower rates of college-bound students.
Of the seven Colorado schools, Centennial High School in Pueblo had one of the biggest percentage jumps in qualifying scores — from 16 in 2010 to at least 61, the Colorado Legacy Foundation said. Enrollment in AP classes was 212 last school year, up from 49, far exceeding the goal to boost enrollment by 50 percent, assistant principal Geraldine Garcia said.
Centennial Principal Tharyn Mulberry scraped together $2,000 in donations and leftover funds to help students pay the $87 fee to take each AP exam. Teachers agreed to turn over the $100 they received for each qualifying score to the students who earned them. Science teacher Jay Mead earned $1,700, all of which is going to his students.
About half of Centennial's students are minorities and about half qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. The school is still trying to boost enrollment in AP classes to better reflect the student body's composition, Garcia said.
Northglenn High School, where English is a second language for about one-fourth of students, had a single-digit percent increase in qualifying scores, according to preliminary results from the foundation. Principal Mary Lindimore nevertheless was pleased that enrollment in AP classes nearly doubled.
"Our kids got on fire about AP classes because teachers were talking about trying for rigorous coursework and how that helps with applying to college," Lindimore said. The school has added more AP classes.
"That wasn't the intent, but that was the outcome, which was really great," she said.
"The results were amazing, especially since they didn't have the entire program," said Gregg Fleisher, NMSI's national director of the AP Training and Incentive Program.
NMSI has until Dec. 9 to raise $1.5 million in matching funds to obtain a $15 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education so as many as 30 Colorado high schools can participate through 2017.
NMSI contends students passing AP exams are three times more likely to earn a college degree than other students. Passing AP exams can earn students college credits to help them graduate on time.
The ultimate goal is preparing more students for careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
Fleisher and Jackson stressed that training for teachers and support for students, not just the monetary incentives, make the NMSI program successful.
"You can put me on a golf course with Tiger Woods and say, 'I'll pay you $1 million if you beat him.' That's not going to help," Jackson said. "If you say, 'I'll give you $1 million,' and give me golf lessons, maybe that would help."
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