Department of Defense Investment Helps National Math and Science Initiative Expand AP Access to Military-Connected Students Across the Country
Department of Defense Investment Helps National Math and Science Initiative Expand AP Access to Military-Connected Students Across the CountrySara Sympson, Director of Communications at the College Board
Thanks to a grant from the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD), an additional 40 high schools in 11 states are receiving an unprecedented level of support from the National Math and Science Initiative (NMSI) and the College Board to increase student success in Advanced Placement (AP).
Through its College Readiness Program, NMSI partners with schools to support students and teachers in AP math, science, and English courses. Students have access to classroom and lab supplies, as well as specialized student study sessions led by national experts. Teachers receive course-specific training, mentoring, year-round support, and classroom-ready materials. Schools get data-driving partnerships for goal setting. NMSI launched its Military Families Mission in 2010 and has reached more than 200 military-connected schools, including those supported by the recent DoD grant.
Research shows that AP students are more likely to enroll in college, stay in college, do well in their classes, and graduate on time in four years. In 2017, NMSI announced that students in its College Readiness Program substantially outpaced the national average rate of growth for scores of 3, 4, or 5 on AP Exams in math, science, and English. Nearly all U.S. colleges and universities grant credit and placement for qualifying AP Exam scores, helping to ensure that AP students can save time and money in college.
Across the country, schools are working with NMSI to enhance their AP programs.
Sweetwater High School, National City, CA
Ellen Hall, an AP English teacher at Sweetwater High School in National City, California, said that her school is trying to accomplish two goals through its NMSI partnership: increase the total number of AP class sections and increase the number of students earning 3 or higher on an exam. There is room for growth in both areas, especially because many Sweetwater students are English language learners and prospective first-generation college students.
Sweetwater also has a large population of military-connected students due to its proximity to Naval Base San Diego. Hall said, “Many of our students come from military families and go on to the military themselves. Recognizing they can excel in rigorous coursework like AP opens their eyes to new possibilities and gives them more confidence. They realize they have leadership potential and can go into the military as an officer. Or, they can enlist and know they have college credit waiting for them at the end of their service.”
Hall described the type of support NMSI schools receive: “NMSI provides a bunch of really cool things, and they train us teachers like you can’t believe. For the kids, they have experts fly in from all over the country for one-day trainings on Saturdays several times throughout the year. Even though its additional hours of practice and instruction, the kids think it’s really exciting. They get to hear ideas from a different voice, a different place…even in different accents.” Hall continued, “We knew there would be a huge commitment on our end to work with NMSI. Has it been worth it? Absolutely.”
Olympian High School, Chula Vista, CA
Julio Avasan, an AP teacher at Olympian High School, said working with NMSI has ignited a new dedication and passion in his students that he’s never seen before. When it comes to the occasional Saturday instruction, he said, “They could be doing whatever they want—but they’re here. They’re excited to try to do well in whatever AP class they take. It’s been such a wonderful experience to see our students learn new material and for us to learn from other teachers.”
As an AP Calculus teacher, Avasan has witnessed how AP STEM coursework can change a student’s trajectory. He recalls a student who had difficulty with math. Avasan got him to agree to take his summer calculus course and stay after class for tutoring. He ended up earning a 5 on the exam and going on to become a mechanical engineer. “Programs like AP open the door to critical thinking and allow my students to see mathematics as a foundation for anything they want to study.”
Avasan has been teaching at Olympian for 13 years and while his experience with administrators and fellow teachers at the school has never been anything but positive, he says working with NMSI has provided additional opportunities for him to grow “academically, professionally, socially—from all angles.” Two of the teachers he met through NMSI he now considers mentors.
North High School, Fargo, ND
This is the second year that North High School in Fargo, North Dakota, has partnered with NMSI to increase AP access and performance among its students. In its first year, “We blew it out of the water,” said principal Andy Dahlen, describing how last year’s AP Exam scores far surpassed expectations. “And we just completed our mock exams. Our teachers are excited about the results and are feeling pretty confident going into this year’s AP Exam administrations.”
For Dahlen, the biggest upside to the extra support from NMSI is seeing an increase in both AP participation and in scores. North hasn’t experienced a boost in the number of students going to college yet, but the ones that are going are much better prepared. He also views the ability to earn college credit through AP as extremely powerful in the ability to reduce student debt.
Southside High School, San Antonio, TX
With NMSI’s help, Southside High School in San Antonio, Texas, has been able to expand their AP program this year with new science offerings that have been well received by students.
Teachers at Southside have also benefitted from the training, guidance, and focus on reflection that NMSI encourages. The school had the opportunity to participate in mock AP Exams this semester, which allowed educators to collaborate in exam scoring and understand why certain things are scored the way they are. Academic Dean Demetria Sance said, “It was incredibly useful for teachers to take the data from the mock exams and work through it together during the next training session. The NMSI instructors are amazing and help our instructors look at the data through a different lens.”
Ridge View High School, Columbia, SC
Ridge View High School in Columbia, South Carolina, already had a thriving AP program before receiving the DoD grant, but the additional funding has allowed them to nearly double enrollment in just the first year of the program—and they’re already seeing growth for next year. They’ve also added two new courses, AP Computer Science A and AP Environmental Science.
According to principal Dr. Brenda Mack-Foxworth, “Working with NMSI has given teachers and students a level of support they never had before. It reinforces the belief that ‘you can do this’ and instills a growth mindset in students. Teachers also feel like it’s not just on them anymore. Now they’re part of a community and supported at every level.”
Much of the support Ridge View receives is embedded into NMSI’s Laying the Foundation Program, which equips teachers with hands-on training, materials, and instructional best practices. Dr. Mack-Foxworth is particularly excited about the vertical alignment and articulation aspects of Laying the Foundation, and she sees opportunities to expand participation each year to more teachers, including at the middle school level.
The goal of all the training and mentoring that schools receive from NMSI throughout the year— whether on an annual, monthly, or daily basis—is to keep the rigor of instruction high and to make sure students are truly college-ready.