Program ‘AIMS’ At Advanced Placement Test Success

by Steve Brawner ([email protected]) 91 views 

A program that offers financial incentives to both high school students and teachers to pass Advanced Placement tests produced 43 percent of successful test-takers in Arkansas last year, despite existing in only 39 high schools. However, it runs out of money at the end of this year.

The Arkansas Advanced Initiative for Math and Science (AIMS) offers students a $100 Visa gift card for each AP course in which they score a 3 or better, which qualifies them for college credit. Teachers get $100 gift cards for each student who qualifies and receive bonuses of up to $3,000 depending on the increase in the number from the previous year.

The program also offers training for teachers while providing students three all-day Saturday sessions with an outside instructor. It also works with teachers starting at the sixth grade level to help them better prepare students for college work.

Tommie Sue Anthony, the initiative’s president, told the State Board of Education Monday that, in 2011-12, 23,765 students took an AP exam in math, science or English. Of that number, 9,794 of them were attending one of the 39 high schools participating in the AIMS program. The rest were split among 232 other schools.

Meanwhile, of the 7,059 students who earned a qualifying score, 3,036 attended AIMS schools.

Anthony told the State Board that an AIMS school can expect in its first year to see an increase of 62 percent in the number of students taking an AP exam and a 56 percent increase in qualifying scores, which is eight to nine times the state average. She told the board that, prior to its participation, Centerpoint in Clark County had only one student in its history earn a qualifying score on an AP exam. Last year, during its first year of participation, it had 33.

The program is being funded by a $13.2 million grant from Exxon Mobil and is in the last year of a six-year program. Anthony told board members she plans to seek money from the Legislature to keep the program going.

After hearing of the program’s success, board member Sam Ledbetter asked Anthony how much money would be required to enable the program to be a statewide one. Anthony said she did not know that figure.

“I’m not afraid of big numbers, believe me,” Ledbetter said. “If it’s something that is this successful, I think we ought to dream big, and, you know, shoot for that.”

In an interview afterwards, Anthony said the program is changing the culture of schools so that AP courses are no longer seen as being only for “the super bright or the elite.” She said teachers have told her it encourages them to invite more students to take AP courses rather than keep the class sizes small. Some students who have qualified in multiple AP courses have earned gift certificates of $400 or $500.

“I think kids see it as a recognition of hard work,” she said. “Not so much, I’m going to do this to make a hundred bucks. Yes that’s nice, but it’s a recognition of their hard work.”