The 61 high schools that participated in the Arkansas Advanced Initiative for Math and Science program last school year produced almost half of the state's Advanced Placement math, science and English test-takers and 44 percent of the scores that qualified students for college credit.
Students who earn college credit for their high school work can realize savings in college tuition costs or have the time to take more advanced-level college courses because they have completed introductory courses.
The initiative schools make up 23 percent of the state's 261 high schools in which students took Advanced Placement tests in math, science and English in 2016-17, Ken James, president of the Arkansas initiative, said in releasing the organization's annual report.
The Arkansas initiative, a nonprofit corporation affiliated with the National Math and Science Initiative since 2008 and based at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, provides course content training to teachers of Advanced Placement and pre-Advanced Placement courses, James said.
It also provides tutoring for students in the participating schools in preparation for the year-end Advanced Placement exams that are made by the College Board, which is also the maker of the SAT college-entrance exam.
The high schools in the initiative are located throughout the state and vary in size.
They include Booneville, El Dorado, Greene County Tech, Lake Hamilton, Greenbrier, and both Springdale high schools -- all of which have been participating since the initiative's first year in 2008-09. Some of the others are B̶e̶n̶t̶o̶n̶v̶i̶l̶l̶e̶,* Russellville, Pea Ridge, Dumas, Crossett, Conway, Arkadelphia, Beebe, Star City and several schools in the Little Rock and Pulaski County Special districts. Jacksonville High School is one. The eSTEM and KIPP charter schools are also recipients of the course content training for teachers and the student tutoring provided by the initiative.
All 305 Arkansas public high schools by law must offer at least four Advanced Placement courses, but students aren't required to take the Advanced Placement exams, resulting in some schools not having math, science and English test results.
Magnet Cove High School began participating in the initiative in the 2015-16 school year.
Jeff Eskola, principal of Magnet Cove High School, praised the initiative Monday, saying that it has given both teachers and students the confidence to take on the more challenging Advanced Placement courses, as evidenced by the increased student enrollment in the courses.
"Our numbers have gone way up but, with the numbers, our scores are going up, too," Eskola said. "It's not just the same two or three students getting scores of 3 or 4s. There are some students you hope and they pray they will score well, and they blow it to the roof."
School districts -- particularly those that have joined the initiative in more recent years -- have to pay fees for the services provided by James and his staff of content experts. That can be $15,000 to $25,000 a year depending on the school size, James said.
"When you look at what you get out of it, it is worth every dime," Eskola said of the training and teaching strategies.
"They could double it and I would pay every dime," he said of the cost. "There is no way I would switch."
In the past and continuing in some high schools, there have been awards to both teachers and students for success on the Advanced Placement courses. In Magnet Cove, students who earn a 3 or better can expect a day off from school. Teachers, Eskola said, get "lots of pats on the back" for good scores. He also noted that the district has a growing enrollment and has provided pay increases to all staff members in recent years.
The 61 schools in the Advanced Initiative for Math and Science last school year comprised 13,322, or 48 percent, of the math, science and English exams taken in the state and 3,824, or 44 percent, of the scores of 3, 4 or 5 that made students eligible for college credit or accelerated college course placement, according to the recently released report.
A total of 27,678 math, science and English Advanced Placement exams were administered in Arkansas this past school year, and there were a total of 8,609 qualifying scores.
Additionally, the initiative schools comprised 3,867, or 61 percent, of the 6,310 math, science and English exams taken by students who are black or Hispanic.
A state total of 886 students who are black or Hispanic earned qualifying scores. Fifty-four percent, or 482, of those students were in the 61 schools that participated in the initiative this past school year.
Arkansas leads the nation in the increased percentage of black and Hispanic students earning qualifying scores in the Advanced Placement math and science exams since 2008, according to the report.
James, a former commissioner of the Arkansas Department of Education who will retire from the initiative at year's end, said the initiative trained over 700 teachers last school year for both Advanced Placement and pre-Advanced Placement courses.
"I've been in this business for a long time and the beauty of AIMS to me is the content work that the teachers get working with our content directors in science, math and English," he said. "It's directly related to what they are doing in the classroom. We have our teachers evaluate our workshops and they all give us the same kind of feedback: 'This is something I can put into practice when I go back to my classroom this week.'"
He also noted that the skills the teachers hone in the training sessions go beyond the Advanced Placement courses that they teach and into their other courses. "They are really touching more than the AP kids. That's another beautiful part of this."
As for students, the initiative continues to encourage schools to provide students with Saturday test-preparation sessions, but that is not required any longer. The initiative has developed online test-preparation sessions.
The content directors have developed live, online, one-hour preparation sessions, which can be archived for teachers and students to use over time.
"In our first year of that we served over 34,000 kids across the state," James said. "We'll have as many as 200 students in a one-hour live session," he said about the after-school sessions that are now in their third year.
The number of schools being served has increased by 11 for this school year.
The College Board produces Advanced Placement exams in dozens of subjects, but the Arkansas Advanced Initiative for Math and Science has focused on math, science and English courses since the inception of the program that is designed to promote student success in math and science courses and expand their opportunities for careers in related fields.
Metro on 10/31/2017
*CORRECTION: Bentonville High School has not been and is not a participant in the Arkansas Advanced Initiative for Math and Science. A previous version of this article incorrectly stated the high school’s affiliation with the initiative.