Grant adds cash incentives, support for AP tests
September 26, 2012 7:15 PM
Advanced Placement students at two Hidalgo County school districts got more than just the peace of mind of passing AP exams this year. In addition to earning college credit, students also received a cash reward for passing grades in English, science or math courses.
A grant from a national nonprofit provided high school upperclassmen in the McAllen and Pharr-San Juan-Alamo districts with $100 for each test.
Just as importantly, administrators said, the grant provides professional support for both instructors and students.
Incoming seniors from the first class of students to enter the program received their checks last week at McAllen high schools.
Students at that district earned a total of $19,800 for 198 passing grades on the tests. At three PSJA high schools, students earned 128 passing AP test scores for a total of $12,800 in checks to students.
Advanced Placement tests are graded on a scale of 1 to 5, with 3 as the minimum passing score. The courses are based on college curricula and a passing grade can get students college credit, allowing them to earn their degree faster.
Meeta Kanwar, a senior at McAllen Memorial High School, has taken and passed six advanced placement exams so far and plans to take 11 by the time she graduates next spring.
“It was just an added bonus,” she said of the checks.
Tim Baus, an AP chemistry teacher at McAllen Memorial, said AP courses require a commitment from students early in their high school careers beginning with Pre-AP classes.
“It probably helped the kid who at the end drifted a bit. You know at the end of the year they’re getting closer to (graduating), they’ve already been accepted into college,” he said.
Both districts are partnering with Advanced Placement Strategies Inc. to improve participation in the AP program with a grant awarded in the spring of 2011.
Charlotte Carlisle, president of the group, said the cash payouts to students and teachers will grab the public’s attention but are only a small part the program, making up between 5 percent and 18 percent of the grant budget.
“Research shows incentives alone don’t work,” she said. “The majority of the grant funding is actually spent on teacher training and teacher development.”
AP instructors are asked to spend four days during the summer training with additional workshops interspersed throughout the semester.
Advanced Placement Strategies ran incentive programs at 14 Texas school districts last year.
The nonprofit is funded by a consortium of foundations, individuals and corporations, including H-E-B, Texas Instruments and Lockheed Martin.
The nonprofit first implemented the AP support program in Dallas in the early 1990s after a group of local businessmen sought a method to improve math and science performance at area schools. That work led the National Math and Science Initiative to launch similar incentive programs in eight other states.
Both districts showed increases in the number of AP tests attempted and passed from the previous year, although the McAllen school district only slightly improved on 2010 numbers.
The number of qualifying scores in math, science and English increased by 24 percent from 103 the previous year at PSJA high schools. Although the district has not seen the participation it would like, administrators say they expect further improvement over the next four years of the grant.
“What it’s doing is building a solid foundation for the curriculum in AP because it is more rigorous,” said Nora Cantu, a PSJA administrator who led the grant application.
Karen Nitsch, director of advanced academics at the McAllen school district, said the effects of the grant can already be seen in the smaller-sized classes that the funding has kept open.
But the new support during the past academic year was partially offset by the loss of funding from the state for AP course materials.
McAllen Memorial senior Melissa Jinks said the workshops provided by the grant allowed her to focus on improving weaknesses in English with the help of instructors this past year.
“It’s doable,” she said. “I thought I wasn’t going to be able to do it and I did. I passed both of them.”
Andrew Kreighbaum covers education and general assignments for The Monitor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and (956) 683-4472.
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