Tuesday, May 10, 2011

TOP STORY >> Advanced studies stressed

Leader staff writer

With a push from the Department of Defense and First Lady Michelle Obama, North Pulaski High School is one of 23 “military” high schools that will see an extra push on advanced placement and pre-AP classes next year.

Tommie Sue Anthony, president of the Arkansas Advanced Initiative for Math and Science, and a former Jacksonville High School teacher, told the Pulaski County Special School Board on Tuesday that the military was tired of its students going from schools with high offerings of advanced-placement classes to those that had none or just a few.

“They pushed for us to move into North Pulaski,” she said.

Her group is already in schools across the state, including the district’s Mills High School.

Jacksonville High School may also be a part of the AIMMS program if funding gets approved before the next school year.

AIMMS is adding a number of schools, such as North Pulaski, to its program through a $13.2 million grant.

Anthony said her nonprofit group is charged with replicating in schools across the state the advanced-placement program that has been successful in Texas for 19 years.

She said it requires a strong commitment from teachers, students and the schools. The teachers receive intensive training and students have to set aside a certain number of Saturdays during the school year for study sessions and the school has to agree to do whatever it takes to get more students into advanced classes and then have them come out with higher test scores.

Children of active duty, National Guard and reserve military personnel in public schools in the U.S. are eligible for the program.

Anthony said the advanced- placement program is in 31 schools and told the board that it works.

“We started out in 10 schools for the 2008-2010 school years. During that time the United States saw AP student classes increase 13.6 percent. In Arkansas, it was just 10.5 percent, but in our 10 schools it was 68.9 percent,” she said.

Among minorities—Hispanics and African Americans—the country saw a 27.7 percent increase in students taking advanced-placement classes. In Arkansas, it was 31 percent, and in the schools in the program it was 202.4 percent, Anthony pointed out.

She added that it was not just about taking classes, but that it was also about scoring high, a three or better, on the advanced-placement tests. She said through last year, 64 percent of all the state students scoring a three or better on the tests came from one of the 24 schools the program was in.

School board president Bill Vasquez was all for the program expanding into North Pulaski and Jacksonville high schools and reminded the board that there were “more AP English students in China than the total of all students in America.”

He added, “If we don’t get moving on this, we will be the people they used to talk about.”

He also said it was great that AIMMS and other groups were putting money in the top, but “we need to double and triple our efforts at the bottom. It starts in kindergarten. If they can’t function at that high level because we left them behind, it’s our fault.”

AIMMS is an arm of the National Math and Science Initiative and First Lady Michelle Obama’s Joining Forces initiative to support military families.