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Program Aims to Improve AP Scores With Training and Incentives

Taking an Advanced Placement course in high school is a good way to get a preview of college-level work. But mastering the subject can translate into college credit and improve the chances of success in college even more.

Indiana is the latest state to try to boost the number of students who pass AP exams through a program that expands professional development, increases instructional time, and provides cash incentives.

Does a $100 "mini-scholarship" for passing an AP exam motivate students? Do teachers do a better job when they get $100 for each student in their class who succeeds?

The University of Notre Dame's Institute for Educational Incentives is working in partnership with the National Math and Science Initiative to find out with the Advanced Placement Training and Incentive Program (AP-TIP).

Indiana joins seven other states (Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Kentucky, Massachusetts, and Virginia) in piloting the program with grant money from NMSI — $7 million, which was matched by Notre Dame.

Karen Morris, AP-TIP program director with the University of Notre Dame, said the initiative will work with 33 high schools over five years to improve student AP exam scores.

Currently, about 12 percent of Indiana students who take AP exams receive a score of at least 3 (considered the minimum to pass on a scale of 1-5). The goal is to boost that figure to 25 percents, says Morris.

This summer, the initiative started with a week-long professional development session for AP teachers to deepen their content knowledge in math, science, or English. They will also receive additional training for two days in the fall and again in the spring.

Teachers in the program are required to provide four hours a week outside of class time for structured tutoring. There are also Saturday study sessions.

Then, there is the hard cash. Teachers receive a small stipend ($500) for their extra time, but they have an added perk if their students pass the AP exam — namely $100 for each successful pupil. Students also get $100 if they get a score of 3 or higher.

"The $100 is just the hook. It draws them in," says Morris. "The real reward is when students come back in two years and say that this program helped them become successful in college."

Since the grant program began to push awareness of the value of AP, enrollment has increased in AP courses, says Morris. And feedback from the teacher training over the summer has been positive, she added.

"This is the first time we've had a grant program with all the pieces that have been successful separately in a holistic program," says Morris. "I'm excited to see the results next year." To sustain the program long term, Morris says there will efforts to find funding from private sources.

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