Advance KY's success proves all students can achieve

"I know they can, even when they think they can't."

That line, on a nationally broadcast television ad, is spoken by Melody Stacy, a Kentucky teacher, who is part of a group of inspiring educators demonstrating that all students can learn and perform at very high levels in math and science. The students featured in the ad are right here in Kentucky.

The ad describes the remarkable success of the National Math and Science Initiative in encouraging high school students to take Advanced Placement courses, and to take AP exams, which can lead to earning college credit in Kentucky if students score a 3 or above.

Several years ago, Exxon/Mobil Corp, in partnership with NMSI, funded these programs to encourage more students in low-performing schools to take AP math and science courses. The program also calls for rigorous professional development for teachers to stimulate student learning and improve teaching strategies.

Kentucky was chosen to participate in the initiative two years ago. Since that time, Advance KY, as the program is known here, has achieved remarkable results.

In the first year, the number of students in Advance KY schools earning qualifying scores on the AP Exams increased 45 percent, compared to only 9 percent in non-participating schools. In year two, the increase jumped to 62 percent.

For minority and low-income students, the results were especially encouraging. The number of minority students earning qualifying scores increased an astounding 825 percent, the second highest increase in the nation.

Clearly, the program demonstrates that all students can learn at high levels when they have access to rigorous courses and high-quality instruction, and when they are immersed in a culture of high academic expectations.

Currently, 44 schools and 12,000 students across Kentucky participate in this program. Ten more schools will join in the fall. The success of the program has been so impressive, every high school in the commonwealth should be clamoring to be included.

Consider this comparison: Jefferson County Public Schools has a robust Advanced Placement program, and it is performing right at the national average in terms of the number of students who earn qualifying scores on the AP exams. Meanwhile, students participating in Advance KY are outperforming both Jefferson County and the national average by a significant amount.

The clearest way to measure and compare AP performance is by measuring the number of students per 1,000 that earn a 3 or above on the exams. In the most recent year for which we have data for all students, Jefferson County had 114 students per 1,000 qualify compared to the U.S. average of 115. For Advance KY students, the number was 167 in our first cohort, and 145 in the second.

Similarly, if we focus on minority students, Jefferson County had 24 students per 1,000 earn a 3 or above on AP exams compared to the U.S. average of 33 and the Advance KY numbers of 63 in the first cohort and 49 in the second cohort.

Advance KY demonstrates we can do much better for all kids. Instead of Kentucky trailing the national averages, Advance KY demonstrates our kids are as capable as any in the nation when given the opportunity, high-quality teaching and rigorous materials to support their efforts.

Kentucky has made great strides in education, but we need to do even better. Advance KY is a world-class program producing world-class students well prepared for the challenges and the rigors of post-secondary education.

It is a program that deserves to be expanded to every district in the commonwealth.