Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

November 18, 2013

Kids paid to pass AP tests

Program aims for more in Advanced Placement classes.

By Lindsey Ziliak Kokomo Tribune
Kokomo Tribune

---- — Students at Kokomo High School can get paid this year for taking Advanced Placement college courses and passing the end-of-course tests.

The school was accepted into the second cohort of the Advanced Placement Training and Incentives Program.

The program’s goal is to get more students, especially minorities, to take those AP classes. And if more students pass the tests at the end, that’s an added bonus.

Research shows teens who take the advanced courses in high school, even if they don’t do well on the final exam, double their chances of graduating from college, KHS guidance counselor Mike Susong said.

“It’s a big opportunity for our kids,” Susong said.

The program offers students in math, science and English AP classes $100 for every qualifying exam they pass at the end of the course. The program also covers half the cost to take the exams. For low-income students, it covers the whole fee.

The AP teachers get $100 for each of their students who pass the AP exam and $1,000 if the class as a whole does well enough. Teachers are also paid $500 for the extra work they put in.

But the true benefit isn’t the money. It’s the support the program provides, AP biology teacher Greta Faurote said.

Teachers in the program receive 58 hours of professional development from master teachers. They have a network of professionals they can lean on when they need help.

If teachers are struggling to teach a concept to students, they can even call on those professionals to come and teach a class for them.

“The resources they’re giving us are just amazing,” Faurote said.

Teachers, in turn, can do more to help their students.

They’re expected to hold weekly tutoring sessions for kids who need extra help.

Beyond the tutoring sessions, students are expected to go to three Saturday study sessions throughout the year.

The first one was just held at Mississinewa High School in Gas City.

“Our environmental science teacher spent a good 15 or 20 minutes talking to us about how imperative it was to attend the Saturday session,” junior Paul Sandoval said.

All across the school, AP teachers were spreading that message.

It paid off.

Susong said 173 students made the trip to Gas City for the all-day study session. That’s 70 percent of their students taking a math, science or English AP class.

The event organizers were floored. No school has ever sent so many students, he said.

“They see the importance of it,” he said. “They’re buying into the program.”

Senior Chelsea Maupin, who is taking four AP classes this year, said she learned a lot at the study session.

She said they offered sample test questions for her calculus class. Her class had just learned about derivatives, and she wasn’t confident she would be able to handle them on the exam.

But someone showed her the questions and talked about what each question was asking her to do. The test format now makes more sense to her.

Sandoval, who is taking five AP classes, said his favorite session was the one on English. He learned a lot about the exam’s essay and how it was scored.

He got to take home a packet of sample essays that show how each one would be scored and why.

These things are important, Faurote said.

“They’re pulling in the things we run out of time to do in the classroom,” she said.

Research shows the extra support works.

Susong pulled out a packet of data showing how the first cohort performed.

As a whole, the group’s scores on math, science and English AP exams increased by 66 percent. Statewide, Indiana’s AP test scores increased by just 8.9 percent.

The gains for minority students were even greater.

Minority students in the cohort increased their scores by 119 percent. Indiana as a whole saw a 14.3 percent jump, according to information from the National Math and Science Initiative.

“Significant gains prove that students, when provided the opportunity and support, can close the achievement gap and keep up with their peers in becoming STEM-literate and workforce- or college-ready,” information from the National Math and Science Initiative states.

Teachers and administrators at Kokomo High School are confident they will start seeing more students enrolling in AP classes. They also believe AP test scores will rise, too.

“We’re hopeful we’re going to set the bar for cohort two,” Faurote said.

Lindsey Ziliak, Tribune Life & Style editor, can be reached at 765-454-8585 or at lindsey.ziliak@kokomotribune.com