Northside High students tops in AP program (Updated)

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 79 views 

Editor’s note: This story is updated throughout with more information.

Students at Fort Smith Northside High School posted the largest increases among select students in six states who are participating in a National Math and Science Initiative designed to increase proficiency in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) courses.

The entire Northside student body, Gov. Mike Beebe, members of the Fort Smith School Board, and other dignitaries gathered Monday afternoon in the Northside Gymnasium to celebrate the good news. Also on hand was Tommie Sue Anthony, president of the Arkansas Advanced Initiative in Math and Science (AAIMS); Tom Luce, CEO of the National Math+Science Initiative (NMSI) and Truman Bell, senior program officer for ExxonMobil.

The Advanced Placement Training and Incentive Program (APTIP) is in its second year, with 23 Arkansas High Schools in the program and in selected high schools in Alabama, Connecticut, Kentucky, Massachusetts and Virginia. NMSI plans to have up to 350 schools in the program by fall 2012. More than 6,000 teachers have been trained to help students improve their STEM scores and to encourage more students to enter STEM-related courses.

Between 2008-2010, there was a 97.7% increase in math, science and English AP (advanced placement) exams in the 65 schools that tested. The passing rate was seven times that of the national average.

Gov. Beebe praised the students and teachers for their efforts, saying they are “setting a curve” for the state. He said they also have proven education is not an obstacle in Arkansas.

“There are no excuses for any of you,” Beebe told the crowd of more than 1,000 students.

Luce encouraged the NHS students to repeat in 2011. He also said taking just one advanced placement course improves from 15% to more than 60% the chances of an African-American student going to college. It’s the same for Hispanic students, Luce said. Both stats received applause from the ethnically diverse NHS student body.

With the U.S. slipping in terms of math and science instruction compared to the rest of the world, Luce said the NMSI program has “proven” U.S. students are just as capable as any if given the opportunity. He said the opportunity is about more than just high test scores.

“You want to change the world? Math and science,” Luce explained to the students.

In a brief interview after the ceremony, Beebe said a “simultaneous” economic development push to create jobs for higher performing math and science students is the best way to keep more of the students in Arkansas. Beebe, who stressed that his administration’s top priority is blending education and economic development, said if the state does not find those jobs “then we’re just a farm club” sending the best and brightest to other states.

Beebe said the good news is that he’s hearing from more Arkansas business execs who say they need workers with higher math, science and English skills.

“Those jobs are here now,” Beebe said.

Part of the program financially rewards students for high scores on the AP tests. Anthony, head of the program in Arkansas, said she is giving $167,700 to Arkansas students this year, with $9,400 going to NHS students.

ExxonMobil helped fund the program and student incentives with a $125 million grant. Bell said he came to Fort Smith to “celebrate the return on that investment.”

APTIP “increases dramatically” the test scores and knowledge of high school students through “rigorous” advanced placement study in math, science and English, according to NMSI literature.

The first 10 schools in the AAIMS program (between 2008-2010) hand a 68.9% overall increase in science, math and English AP exams, almost 5 times the national average. During the first two years of the program, AAIMS students at 24 Arkansas high schools took 5,839 AP math, science and English exams, with minority students posting a 202.4% increase in passing math, science and English exams.

Arkansas schools in the program are: Ashdown, Crossett, Dumas, Fort Smith Northside, Hamburg, Green Forest, Magnolia, Pea Ridge, Rivercrest, Rogers Heritage, Rogers, Russellville, Waldron, Booneville, El Dorado, Greenbrier, Green County Tech, Lake Hamilton, Wilbur Mills University Studies, Newport, Little Rock Parkview, Springdale and Springdale Har-Ber.