Improving Student Performance

Nationwide Efforts with a Sizeable Impact

Educational equity is not a problem confined to one laggard state; it is a national problem that requires leveraging key players, community strengths, and a united resolve. Although there are countless nationwide programs that support schools and students, fewer have demonstrated success of improving academic performance for students of color. There are some, however, with proven results to help ensure that students of color have as many opportunities as their peers.

Through these initiatives, communities across the country have become part of a network to learn from best practices and how to overcome this nationwide challenge.

Advancement Via Individualized Determination (A.V.I.D.)

The premise is simple: Take average "C" students who want to go to college, have them by enroll in rigorous courses, and teach them how to succeed. AVID schools run advanced classes composed of a mix of excelling students and struggling students. Teachers foster a symbiotic relationship whereby struggling students learn from excelling students, and excelling students reinforce learned concepts in their own minds by helping others.

In addition to teaching core subject areas such as math and reading, participating schools run AVID elective courses designed to provide resources for students unfamiliar with the rigor of college preparatory classes. These electives focus on developing effective note-taking skills, promoting healthy organizational habits, and encouraging critical thinking. “We hope to simultaneously increase students’ access to rigorous classes and their ability to engage with challenging materials,” explains AVID Senior Director and Chief Research Officer Dennis Johnston. The schools also follow AVID’s learning support structure that stresses Writing, Inquiry, Collaboration, Organization, and Reading to learn (commonly known in the AVID network as WICOR).

After 30 years, AVID boasts impressive accomplishments in equalizing student performance. The program is available to students of all races, but it concentrates on schools with large minority populations. Today, AVID reaches more than 800,000 students annually in more than 5,000 elementary and secondary schools across 44 states. Ninety-three percent of African-American and 92% of white AVID seniors in 2015 met the entrance requirements for four-year colleges, making the gap statistically nonexistent.

AVID followed its student cohort from the class of 2010 and found that the effects last. Once in college, 86% of white and 83% of black students returned for a second year, both well above the national average for all races of 77%. After four years, the gap between white and black AVID students making it to the senior year of college was only 3%.

AVID’s tremendous success and commitment to making college an option for all its students has earned it a spot as a leader in the fight to close the achievement gap.

The National Math and Science Initiative (NMSI)

NMSI is a nonprofit organization dedicated to addressing the declining numbers of students prepared for the rigors of college and career, particularly in STEM fields, by supporting and advancing a strong AP agenda. Working in a variety of school settings from coast to coast, NMSI has made great strides in closing the STEM achievement gap, dramatically increasing participation and success in AP STEM courses among traditionally underserved populations. “AP exams are a great equalizer,” says Gregg Fleisher, chief academic officer at NMSI. “We know that students who do well in rigorous AP courses do well in college, and that’s why we focus on increasing the number of students participating in these classes. We remove barriers that students, teachers, and schools face in maximizing student performance.” NMSI’s program provides more time on task for students with extra study sessions, extensive training for teachers, and achievement-based financial awards.

Perhaps the biggest impact NMSI has made in the nearly 800 schools it works with is a redefinition of expectations. NMSI believes that all students, regardless of background or ZIP code, can achieve at high levels with the proper resources and support. After NMSI enters a school, AP enrollment and success not only become the norm, but they are celebrated with an enthusiasm more common for sports achievements.

NMSI typically relies on businesses to help support its work in local communities. The initiative started in 2007 in Dallas and has since spread to 30 states. Partnerships with ExxonMobil, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation, Texas Instruments, and others, have jump-started efforts across the nation that now receive both private and public funding. For example, part of ExxonMobil’s inaugural $125 million commitment to NMSI was to fund statewide programs dedicated to advancing STEM performance in Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, and Massachusetts. These contributions—and the outstanding results among participating schools—have resulted in follow-on investments from state and local education agencies in each of those states.

By working closely with teachers, school administrators, as well as public, private, and philanthropic partners, NMSI has moved the needle on AP STEM achievement for African-American students. After just one year in the program, African-American students show a 90% increase in the number of passing scores earned on AP math and science exams, well above the national average increase of 12%. Moreover, in 2015, African-American students in NMSI partner schools accounted for 9.4% of the entire country’s passing AP scores among African-American students in 2015. Fleisher offered NMSI’s secret to success, “When you set high expectations and provide support, students and teachers typically rise to the occasion and succeed.”