LITTLE ROCK — The 24 schools in an experimental program designed to promote Advanced Placement testing in English, math and science saw a 41.9 percent increase in students scoring a three, four or five on the tests in the 2009-10 school year, organizers said Monday.
The boost is due in part to financial incentives the program provides for students and their teachers -$100 for every score of three or higher on the tests, which are scored on a scale of one to five. Many colleges provide equivalent credit for scores of three or higher.
The Arkansas Advanced Initiative for Math and Science aims to increase participation in the challenging AP courses by providing incentives and paying consultants to provide in-school preparation for the exams.
“Students who do well on math and science tests tend to major in math and science incollege,” initiative President Tommie Sue Anthony said.
“In a state where so few people study math and science, this is the hope for the future.”
The program, coordinated by education faculty at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, is funded largely by a five-year, $13.2 million grant from Exxon-Mobil Corp. and $2.9 million from the Walton Family Foundation.
The Arkansas Advanced Initiative for Math and Science is one of six state-level programs created in 2007 by the National Math and Science Initiative to increase participation in the courses.
The program started with 10 high schools in the 2008-09 school year and increased to 24 schools in 2009-10.
The 24 schools were: Booneville, El Dorado, Greenbrier, Greene County Tech, Lake Hamilton, Wilbur Mills University Studies, Newport, Little Rock Parkview, Springdale,Springdale Har-Ber, Ashdown, Crossett, Dumas, Fort Smith Northside, Hamburg, Green Forest, Magnolia, Pea Ridge, Rivercrest, Rogers Heritage, Rogers, Russellville, Waldron and KIPP Delta College Preparatory Charter High School in Helena-West Helena.
Of 5,839 test takers in those schools in the 2009-10 school year, 1,751, or 30 percent, scored a three, four or five.
In the 2008-09 school year, 1,242 of 4,033, or 30.8 percent of test takers in those schools, scored threes, fours and fives, national program Director Gregg Fleischer said.
“Among minority students, the passing rate increased as more students took the test,” Fleischer said. “That’s unheard of.”
The number of black and Hispanic students qualifying for incentives jumped from 117 of 224 test takers to 760 of 1307 test takers last school year, he said.
Students in participating Arkansas high schools will get checks totaling $176,700 for 2009-10 test scores, more than doubling the financial incentives supplied the previous year, Anthony said.
Russellville High School senior Emily Callaway got a $100 check for her score on an AP English test last year, 10 times what she earns in each session she works at her church’s nursery, her only other source of income.
“It’d take me a quite a while to earn that,” Callaway said. “It played a big role in trying to do good on that test.”
Callaway, who said she plans to major in pre-medicine in college, is taking five AP science and math courses this year, putting her in place for a potentially bigger payoff if she scores well.
Wesley White, Callaway’s principal, said he’s seen students take home as much as $400 for their scores.
In its first year of participation in the Arkansas Advanced Initiative for Math and Science last year, Russellville saw 150 additional students take AP tests, bringing the total to 675.
“You have to admit that incentive does something,” Callaway said. “One hundred bucks might not seem like much, but 100 bucks is 100 bucks.”
“The idea is that, in time, they’ll realize the importance of the tests themselves, ” White said.
Teachers earned $100 for each three, four or five a student earns, plus tiered bonuses that increase with higher percentages of successful students.
The program has taken part of the credit for raising the state’s overall participation in AP classes.
Unlike most states, Arkansas pays the test fee for first time test takers. The state also requires all high schools to teach at least one AP class each in English, math, science and social studies, which no other state does.
A February report from the College Board, which administers AP tests, said 34 percent of Arkansas’ 2009 graduating class took an AP class during high school. That compared with only 26.5 percent nationally, ranking the state fifth overall.
The state’s AP participation rate has grown 21.1 percentage points from just 12.9 percent of high school graduates in 2004.
The 31 high schools participating in the Arkansas Advanced Initiative for Math and Science for the 2010-11 school year are: Booneville, El Dorado, Greenbrier, Greene County Tech, Lake Hamilton, Wilbur Mills University Studies, Little Rock Parkview, Springdale,Springdale Har-Ber, Ashdown, Crossett, Dumas, Fort Smith Northside, Hamburg, Green Forest, Magnolia, Pea Ridge, Rivercrest, Rogers Heritage, Rogers, Russellville, Waldron, Jonesboro, West Memphis, Conway-East, Conway-West, Arkadelphia, Sheridan, Smackover, Rison and the KIPP Delta College Preparatory Charter High School in Helena-West Helena.