NMSI Increases Access to STEM Courses Through High-Quality AP Opportunities

What challenge is NMSI tackling?

The National Math and Science Initiative’s College Readiness Program seeks to increase college and career readiness by empowering schools and teachers to increase access to and achievement in rigorous coursework for all students, particularly in math and science, Advanced Placement (AP) course offerings. NMSI schools are achieving those increases through unique teacher training and resources and extraordinary resources that help students develop the knowledge and skills needed for success.

How does the College Readiness Program work?

Over many years of focused work, NMSI has designed a process that enables the program to successfully support districts and high schools to offer more STEM courses to students:

- First, NMSI identifies schools or districts that are primed for the program. Following a selective application process, the organization awards grants to schools or districts that demonstrate the willingness and capacity to (1) increase AP STEM course offerings, (2) offer open enrollment in AP courses for all students, and (3) commit that teachers will participate in intensive professional development. 

- After NMSI accepts a school to the program, and each subsequent year that the school participates, teachers engage in a four-day intensive professional development experience with the College Readiness Program Summer Institute to cover (1) AP course content, (2) pedagogical strategies to effectively teach AP courses, and (3) changes over time to course content, test content, and experiments and demonstrations in lab courses.

- Throughout the school year, AP teachers in the program have access to effective lessons and labs, mentoring from expert AP teachers and additional professional development focused on content.The program further incentivizes schools and districts by offering monetary rewards for increasing student enrollment and success (a passing score of 3 or above on a 5-point scale) on the AP exam.

- CRP also provides students with half-day study sessions lead by expert AP teachers, mock exams, and financial assistance to help cover the official AP exam fee. 

Together, these wraparound opportunities for schools, teachers, and students provide the resources, content supports, and incentives for increased success in AP courses.  

What is the impact of CRP?

CRP has increased AP accessibility and achievement for 1.5 million students in about 1,000 public high schools across 40 states. Participating districts and schools include traditional and charter school systems in both urban and rural settings. The student populations are thus diverse: students from more affluent and disadvantaged communities, as well as those hailing from military families, are benefitting from expanded access to the AP courses in critical fields. One commonality across the participating sites is a drive in the community to develop a robust local STEM economy and to close persistent achievement gaps between more advantaged and traditionally underserved students. 

CRP demonstrated measurable, sustainable increases in STEM teacher effectiveness, AP course enrollment, and passing scores on AP exams in a five-year evaluation of 60 schools in Colorado and Indiana. Further, 100 percent of administrators at participating high schools shared they felt the program was beneficial for their AP teachers and students. One assistant principal observed that “the mock exams help reduce testing fatigue, improve test-taking strategies, and help students learn how to pace themselves during the exam.” Another administrator commented that CRP was “transformative for us in terms of our commitment and our kids’ commitment to AP classes.”

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What did NMSI learn through the CRP?

In expanding the reach of College Readiness Program, NMSI learned the program is effective in settings across the country, and that certain conditions in the districts and schools can help or hinder success. First, complete buy-in among district and school leaders, as well as teachers, is key. NMSI has found that districts and schools that have fully committed leadership that truly understand the value of expanding AP offerings to all students are more likely to hit the ground running. Sites that are still working to bring around resistant or hesitant stakeholder groups struggled with gaining teacher support, and implementation required more intervention from NMSI along the way. In cases like these, the historically underrepresented groups of students in AP courses continued to experience barriers to entry. For example, these students remained subject to long-held beliefs and perceptions about which students are capable of excelling in rigorous AP courses.  

Second, in large or rural districts where travel to required teacher training was logistically and financially prohibitive, teachers were less likely to attend. Recognizing this challenge, CRP offered virtual sessions as an alternate delivery mode to ease the burden on teachers and increase participation. 

Lastly, not all schools have teachers who are fully prepared to promote all students’ success in AP courses. For example, even if committed, teachers new to teaching AP courses require more support than experienced AP teachers in how to help struggling students with course materials. To address this challenge, CRP provided more targeted professional development and increased support to meet the needs of new AP teachers.

For more information about the College Readiness Program, contact Gregg Fleisher at gfleisher@nms.org