Alabama was one of only six states to receive a $13.2 Million grant from NMSI in 2008. As a result, A+ College Ready was established as a program of the A+ Education Partnership to replicate an AP training and incentive program that had great success in Texas. Alabama’s success has mirrored (and contributed to) NMSI’s success over the last 10 years and the grant has been transformative for the state.
This public private partnership required private sector matching funds to prove in the value of the initiative and set the stage for future and hopefully ongoing support from the ALSDE and the State Legislature via the Education Trust fund. The initial $13.2 million investment has been leveraged many times over with the total investment from public and private sources in Alabama of $30,112,881 over the last 10 years. Having adequate funding from the start to take the program to scale has been a key factor in our success.
The focus on Advanced Placement courses (AP) measuring both access and success on AP provided the initiative with measurable outcomes that are benchmarked internationally. When students receive a qualifying score on an AP exam, they can potentially earn 3 hours of college credit. Alabama students in the program have earned over 35,000 qualifying scores and have potentially saved over $64 M in college costs. This is very important to a relatively poor state like ours.
The guidance and support NMSI provided as we launched and built the program was invaluable. We could build on the knowledge they had gained over the prior 15 years in Texas and did not have to launch the program from scratch on our own. The replication model was very useful in the beginning and gave us program components like Laying the Foundation teacher training, student Saturday sessions etc. which helped build our credibility and success.
While the benefits to Alabama were great, we carefully and deliberately moved beyond just replicating the work NMSI supported and evolved the initiative over time to meet the specific needs of Alabama students and teachers. It became clear that a more robust pipeline of students better prepared for the rigors of AP and college level work needed to be built in Alabama and the following steps have been taken toward meeting that goal.
- NMSI’s laying the Foundation lessons served well as the basis for A+ College Ready’s 6-10th grade teacher training in math science and English but there was no social studies component. A+ secured and dedicated significant additional resources to build a social studies program (SSC3) from the ground up for 6th grade through AP teachers. We now offer support for teachers and schools in all four core subject areas.
- A+ organized teams of Alabama teachers, who over a period of four years, took LTF and SSC3 and other lessons and organized them into curricular frameworks for twenty-one 6-10th grade courses linked to Alabama’s College and Career Ready standards (CCRS).
- This school year over 900 teachers who liked the frameworks signed letters of agreement to implement the lessons and strategies. In return, they were provided with equipment funds and the opportunity to earn an additional equipment stipend based on student growth on ASPIRE.
- With the adoption of the CCRS standards, all Alabama students were expected to be given a more rigorous curriculum. In response, the focus of A+ moved from serving primarily pre-AP and AP students to ensuring that all students in grades 6-12 were reached. Additional resources were secured and are being used to train and support ALL teachers (and therefore ALL students) in our Program schools. The impact on student achievement will be much broader than originally envisioned in our early years.
- Recent support from the National Science Foundation and Code.org has allowed us to bring a successful computer science initiative into over 70 Alabama high schools which will grow to 90 schools and several thousand students next school year. Middle school computer science classes will also be added next year building a cadre of students better prepared to meet the needs of business and industry.
As a result of this initiative, Alabama has ranked number one in the nation for the past eight years in the per cent increase in qualifying scores on AP math science and English exams. As teachers and students across the state continue to embrace this effort, we expect to expand student academic growth well into the next decade.