Good news from North High School

By John Monfredo, Worcester School Committee member

It is the nature of society that the only news to make the press is doom and gloom. I want to reverse that trend and let you know good things are happening in our schools.

Despite the recession, budget woes and many other problems that plague the current school climate, our talented and dedicated Worcester Public School professionals have once again risen to the challenges facing them and demonstrated their worth.

As reported last year in InCity Times, North High School was part of the Mass Insight and Research Institute project. This independent non-profit organization works with public schools across the nation, as well as higher education and state government, to improve student achievement. Following a highly competitive application process, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, in partnership with Mass Insight Education and Research Institute, succeeded in securing one of the first–ever awarded grants from the National Math and Science Initiative, Inc. (NMSI) given to the Massachusetts Math and Science Initiative for an Advance Placement (AP) and incentive program.

Here’s the good news! At a press conference held at North High School earlier this fall, the results of the 2009 school year Advanced Placement (AP) exam and North High students showed a 111 % increase in passing scores over last year.

This prompted MMSI President Morton Orlov II to state: “Even among a strong field of high schools across Massachusetts, the results at North High really stood out. … in addition to the hard work of the students and teachers, it is critical to have top-level support from the superintendent, principals and public officials. Since Worcester enjoys such strong district-wide support for the program, we are confident that the program will continue to succeed at both North High and now this year at South High for years to come.”

The principal of North High School, Mathew Morse, was thrilled about the accomplishments of his school in their first year of the grant. He said, “North High School saw a dramatic increase in the number of students enrolled in AP mathematics, science and English courses. The outcomes for enrolled students also showed a dramatic increase from the prior year. Specifically, in these courses, we went from 17 qualifying scores of 3, 4, or 5 in 2008 to 36 qualifying scores. This shows an amazing percentage increase of 112%, from 2008-2009.”

He then went on to say that in order to see continued success with this grant, North High must continue to enroll increasing numbers of its students in these courses who are prepared for the rigor of Advanced Placement work. One grant focus is on preparation, and the grant offers professional development for AP teachers, as well as “vertical teaming” for the teachers who have these students in the earlier grades starting in middle school.

For our web readers, Advanced Placement (AP) is a program of college-level courses (this program makes rigorous AP courses a possibility for all juniors and seniors at North High) offered to high school juniors and seniors. Students who take the courses are eligible to take AP exams, which are graded on a 1 to 5 scale, 5 being the highest score. But students who score 3 or better EARN college credit in the subject area.

The initial funding for the initiative program came from ExxonMobil. Massachusetts was one of seven states selected to receive the grant. It is a six-year grant that will fund a state-wide Advanced Placement training and incentive program. MMSI is funded primarily by a private grant from the National Math and Science Initiative is Massachusetts largest statewide high school math and science program. It is also the largest statewide teacher training and support program. The University of Massachusetts, WPI, Unum, Abbott Bioresearch Center, Alden Trust, the Fuller Foundation and Morgan-Worcester, Inc. provide matching funds to support the program in Worcester.

Students who receive an exam score of 3 or over receive $100 for each test passed in Math, Science and English. AP teachers also receive that amount for every student whose scores 3 or better. Thus far, 36 North High students were the proud recipients of $100 checks for their scholastic effort.

MMSI is modeled after a highly successful program at the Dallas Public Schools. It has been replicated in Massachusetts and in five other states. The MMSI results show that the combination of enhanced teacher training, teacher awards, student scholarships, student study sessions and master-teacher mentoring can dramatically increase the number of students succeeding in college-level work.

In addition, because of the strong correlation between teacher content knowledge and student performance, intensive teacher training is the centerpiece of the program. During the summer of 2008, MMSI trained 90 AP and Lead AP teachers and 50 Pre-AP teachers.

The program provides nine days of training for AP teachers and four training days for Pre-AP teachers, four vertical teaming sessions for both AP and Pre-AP teachers, and three content directors and 12 AP lead teachers in math, science and English, who will work in our schools to support AP teachers.

The goals of the MMSI program, according to President Orlov II, are to increase participation in mathematics, science and English courses, increase performance by getting the students to receive a 3 or better on AP exams, and to increase college success by getting more students to college and graduating from college.

Students who pass an AP exam are three times more likely to finish college than those who do not. This exciting program has many elements to enhance participation and performance, such as Student and Teacher awards, Exam fee support, Equipment and supplies, Vertical Team Meetings, Content Directors and lead teachers, Student study sessions, Teacher stipends, Teacher professional development, student recruitment and outreach, and MMSI program management.

This program is also reaching out to minority students in an attempt to close that achievement gap, and it has initially been successful. African American and Hispanic student scores increased by 71.9 % at MMSI schools in Massachusetts (10 schools involved with the program) compared to 18.7 % statewide and 13% nationally. A Texas study found that AP courses are even more transformative for minority students. Six-year college graduation rates quadrupled for African–American and Hispanic students who had passed at least one AP exam.

Low-income students in MMSI schools passed the exams at a 57 % higher level than last year. This holds true for North High, for there was an increase of 83% of African American and Hispanic students who scored a 3 or greater from last year to this year.
At the conclusion of the press conference at North High School, President Orlov II, reiterated that the program still needs to move forward.

The AP teachers worked very hard last year to provide the strongest possible learning experience for their students and North’s increase of 112% in qualifying scores reflects this effort. Those same teachers would be the first to acknowledge that there are more students to reach and that those students can achieve at a higher level. He stated the first year was a start, but the real key over the next several years is to fundamentally change expectations so that taking rigorous courses is what students at North expect to do, not just in their senior year, but when they arrive for their first day of high school. North’s success in the first year of the program shows what’s possible.

This year South High School will participate in the innovative program that began at North High. In classes that began this month, MMSI’s AP training and award program lifted South High AP math, science and English enrollment from 166 students last year to 238 today – an increase of 43 %. Now South High Community School will be ready to show their hard work as they prepare for the AP course and testing next spring.

This is great news for the Worcester Public Schools! Let’s all wish North High and South High Community School a successful school year as they embark on higher achievement for their students!

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