Latino students are making gains in AP courses after a new initiative (Photo/Getty Images)

Program dramatically increases number of Latino students passing AP exams

A new program is dramatically increasing the number of Latinos passing their Advanced Placement exams.

The pass rate on rigorous Advanced Placement tests went up by 72 percent in the past year alone at high schools that were part of a new program by the National Math and Science Initiative (NMSI). The program trains teachers and gives students extra help on Saturdays.

Over the three-year program, the number of Latino and African-American students who achieved passing AP scores in math, science, and English courses tripled. During the 2012-2013 academic year, first year NMSI schools saw an increase of 85 percent of students passing science, math and English exams.

An AP class is a college-level course offered in high school. At the end of the course, students must get a score of 3 or higher out of 5 in order to have the course count as college credit. Studies also find students who take AP classes also do better in college, since these rigorous courses expose students to college-level work.

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Sara Martinez Tucker, CEO of NMSI and former CEO of the Hispanic Scholarship Fund, says that while Latino students have been taking AP courses, they have not necessarily passed the exams. The program works with schools in order to increase the performance of students taking AP courses. Teachers receive a mentor and intensive training over the summer while students receive additional homework help through an online program and attend Saturday study sessions.

“The knowledge economy demands that all students have strong foundations in STEM disciplines, yet so many of our students do not have access to rigorous content,” Martinez Tucker said. “By encouraging more students to take college-level courses and equipping them to succeed, we’re closing the achievement gap.”

NMSI’s program has only been implemented in 462 high schools in 18 states or about 2 percent of the nation’s schools. The initiative began five years ago.

Hispanic students specifically closed the score gap by 13 percent in one year in schools. Within the first year, the number of minority students who achieved a passing score in math and science courses increased by 95 percent.

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A recent study found that the number of Latino students increased by ten percent from 2011 and 2012. However, over 300,000 high school students in the class of 2012, many of them minorities, were identified through their PSAT scores as having the potential to take AP classes but did not take them.

According to the group, students who get a passing AP exam score are four times more likely to graduate from college.

“The comprehensive AP program not only increases access to courses but also provides resources they need to succeed,” Martinez Tucker said on a conference call with reporters. “Now students who are traditionally underrepresented in STEM fields are passing exams and earning valuable college credit.”

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