The AP advance - Worcester program gets results


From www.telegram.com

Four years ago, amid much skepticism, the Mass Math + Science Initiative launched an ambitious effort to raise academic expectations and achievement by encouraging high schools to increase the numbers of students taking Advanced Placement courses. Today, four of Worcester’s high schools — Burncoat, North, South and Worcester Technical — are demonstrating that MMSI works.

During a meeting last week with the Telegram & Gazette, MMSI President Mort Orlov explained that the program has enabled participating high schools to dramatically increase the numbers of juniors and seniors who are taking AP tests in math, science and English, as well as the number receiving a score of 3, 4 or 5 on the AP scale of 1 to 5. Such qualifying scores can mean college credit, saving families thousands of dollars in tuition costs.

Four elements guide MMSI’s success:

•Teacher support, including professional development sessions with world-class trainers, and a system of lead teachers who work not only with their own schools, but with students and faculties from elsewhere in the district.

•Student support, including financial assistance to defray the cost of the AP exams themselves, and three Saturday study sessions for each course, featuring instructors other than the students’ usual classroom teachers.

•Program management, in which MMSI tracks school and teacher performance to ensure accountability.

•An awards program proving teachers and students with modest financial incentive for obtaining qualifying scores.

MMSI’s success in Worcester has produced notable increases in AP participation and qualifying scores across the board, but particularly among African-American, Hispanic, and low-income students, the result of a process, as Mr. Orlov puts it, that has made teachers “confidently more inclusive” and eager to shatter barriers and discard stereotypes.

Worcester Superintendent of Schools Melinda Boone notes that there are “bright students across the spectrum,” many of whom are now getting the support mechanisms and opportunities they need to perform to their potential.

Worcester’s AP success to date also owes much to the ongoing financial support and participation of WPI, whose president, Dennis Berkey, serves on the MMSI board. WPI has taken the lead in raising $160,000 this year to support the program.

Much work remains. The number of students taking AP courses and succeeding on the tests is still too low. And the culture of excellence the MMSI AP program promotes needs more time to permeate the entire school system, raising expectations for all, and challenging both faculty and students to raise their games.

But MMSI works. It is well-planned, focused, accountable, and challenging. That’s a winning combination to bear in mind as Massachusetts continues to seek its way forward at all levels of education.