A program at three Colorado Springs-area high schools has boosted student participation on Advanced Placement exams and shows that students can rise to the challenge of rigorous academic programs, officials of the Colorado Legacy Foundation said Wednesday.

Colorado Legacy Foundation logoFoundation officials announced the numbers of students participating in AP the number of qualifying exam scores rose significantly at Widefield, Mesa Ridge and Fountain-Fort Carson high schools last school year because of a program that encourages more students to take AP classes, provides training for teachers and coaching for students, and pays part of exam costs. The effort is particularly focused on the kinds of students who might not otherwise take the classes.

Among others things, the program provides monetary incentives for students and teachers. Students receive $100 per qualifying score, and teachers received $100 for each qualifying score by their students.

“The results in one year speak for themselves,” said Helayne Jones, Legacy president. Students who take AP classes and exams “have crossed the hurdle of taking more rigorous curriculum,” she said, adding that the effort “creates a school culture where all students are encouraged to succeed.”

The program is coordinated in Colorado by the foundation and is an effort of the Initiative for Military Families; the three high schools have significant numbers of military dependents. The effort is part of the larger National Math and Science Initiative, which advocates for wider student participation in pre-AP and AP classes, especially in math and science.

The Legacy Foundation, using a $10.5 million federal grant from the math and science initiative (see story), is launching a similar program this school year at 10 other Colorado high schools. An additional 20 schools will join the program over the following two years.

Student participation increased dramatically at two of the schools, but the percentages of qualifying scores dropped. The foundation reported these results from the three high schools:

  • Widefield – 240 exams were taken and there were 111 qualifying scores, or 46 percent of tests taken. In 2011, there were 46 exams taken and 26 qualifying scores, or 56 percent.
  • Mesa Ridge – 224 exams taken, 66 qualifying scores, or 29 percent. In 2011, 40 tests were taken with 22 qualifying scores, or 55 percent.
  • Fountain-Fort Carson – 159 exams taken, 79 qualifying scores, or 49 percent. This year was the first that AP classes were available at the school.

Jones said participation in AP classes has been shown to improve a student’s chance of college success, regardless of test scores.

The state accountability system requires schools have one of four ratings and accompanying improvement plans, based on their students’ achievement. All three schools have “performance” plans, the highest rating in the state, albeit one shared by nearly 70 percent of schools. Widefield and Mesa Ridge are in the Widefield district; Fountain-Fort Carson is in the district of the same name.

The 10 high schools that will participate in a similar program this year are Abraham Lincoln in Denver, Northglenn, Aurora Central, Arvada, Centennial in Pueblo, Central in Grand Junction, Fruita Monument, Grand Junction, James Irwin Charter in Colorado Springs and Vista Ridge, also in Colorado Springs.

Each school, and the ones that join the program later, will receive funding with three years. The foundation hopes to raise money to continue the programs for an additional two years.

Jones said she hopes that every Colorado high school eventually will have a program that brings more students in AP classes but acknowledged that would require state support.