The Penn Hills School District is in the second year of an affiliation with the National Math Science Initiative (NMSI). NMSI is a nationwide program to promote larger enrollment in Advanced Placement (AP) courses along with teacher training to support students in AP courses, based on research and funded by the Gates Foundation and ExxonMobil Corporation. Students enrolled in AP Math, Science, and English courses benefit by this affiliation through highly trained staff, extra preparation and review sessions, and monetary awards for AP exam qualifying scores.
Earlier this month, representatives from NMSI gave a presentation to the Curriculum Committee. Program Manager Muriel Fox Alim and Director Jackie Castma presented the results from the first year of the District’s partnership with NMSI.
“Penn Hills gets what NMSI’s mission is,” Ms. Alim told the audience, with an increase in the number of students enrolling in AP courses and taking the exam. In fact, the number of students taking AP exams has more than doubled, from 118 to 253 students. Taking an AP course is considered a measure of college readiness. The goal of the program is to increase the success of students, especially those typically underrepresented in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).
There has also been an increase in the number of students scoring a 3, 4, or 5 on the exams. And, Penn Hills has seen an over threefold increase in the number of African-American students taking the test this year compared to last year.
“We believe that all students can be successful,” Ms. Alim stated. She explained that even though students do not receive the 3 or above required for college credit, NMSI believes scores of 2 are just as important to help students succeed and be ready for college. In fact, the difference in college GPA in the fourth year for students who score 2 on an AP Exam and those who score 3 is only 0.04 percent.
NMSI’s message is that it is okay for students to get 2s because these students are still exposed to the curriculum, they are taking the exams, there is a measurement for what they understand, and they have the opportunity to experience a rigorous curriculum that gives them confidence as they continue through high school and move on to college.
The number of students scoring 2s in 2016 was 36. That number more than tripled the next year to 102. Those students who score 2 receive added support from NMSI with study sessions and an additional 12 hours of instruction for each course, as well as professional development for teachers and mentoring support. The focus is on changing the 2s to 3s.
Ms. Castma explained that the students from Penn Hills will be followed through college and whether they move on into a STEM career/field. She said that something for the District to be excited about is the growth it has shown. Nationally, schools in their first year with NMSI see an average of 5 to 6 percent growth. NMSI is very happy to say that Penn Hills has seen a 60 percent increase. The students have outperformed the nation’s qualifying scores by tenfold in one year. “It’s something to be very excited about,” she said.
Superintendent Dr. Nancy Hines thanked NMSI for coming in and helping the District unleash the students’ untapped potential. “This is very positive and exciting news for our Penn Hills students,” she said, adding, “Good teachers have always known those students who are capable but holding back for whatever reason. NMSI allows us to get these students more involved with our most rigorous courses and help them realize their true potential."