Minority Kids at DISD Lead Nation in AP Test Scores in Math and Science. Who Knew?

Sometimes we reporters who write about the schools get so busy reporting on whether school board members have been engaging in fisticuffs with the staff and why the cops had to hustle a board member out of a school, we lose sight of the boring peripheral questions like whether the children are learning anything. A couple of people recently asked me to go back and look at a story that has been up on the Dallas Independent School District's web page for a full month, and ...

Wow. That's amazing. Had you heard about this? Oh, maybe not, because I don't think any of us in the reporting business told you about it. According to a private outfit called the National Math + Science Initiative (NMSI), DISD leads the nation in advanced placement scores for minority students.

No, wait, more than just leads. A recent national report by NMSI says a minority student in DISD who takes the advanced placement test in math or science is more than twice as likely as a minority student in any other urban district in America to get a score qualifying for advanced college credit.

Yes, yes, give me a little credit, I already looked to see if the National Math + Science Initiative has the same mailing address as Dallas Superintendent Mike Miles, and, no, no, it's not a scam. The NMSI is funded by a national coalition of sponsors including the College Board and the Texas Instruments Foundation. It was launched here in Dallas in 1995 by the O'Donnell Foundation and is now national in reach, involved in 700 schools in 25 states and the District of Columbia.

The program includes cash incentives for students and teachers, teacher training and other elements designed to encourage more students to take advanced placement courses and the tests afterward to qualify for college credit.

The recent NMSI report says the number of qualifying scores on all AP tests including English for Dallas high school students increased this year over last by 14 percent. The report says African-American and Hispanic students nationwide who earn college credit with AP tests are four times more likely to graduate from college than those who do not.

Gregg Fleisher, chief academic officer of NMSI, told me, "Basically, if you take a look at the number of African-American and Hispanic students in 11th and 12th grade in Dallas and you take a look at how many exams were passed in math and science by minority students, that ratio is twice as good as any other urban school district in the country."

He said NMSI uses Dallas results to sell the program nationwide. "We show Dallas results everywhere," he told me.

Fleisher says Dallas has led the nation on minority student AP scores for almost 20 years since the program began here, but Dallas' lead over other cities took a huge leap forward last year after Dallas Superintendent Miles expanded the program to cover all high schools.

"Last year was a great increase," Fleisher said. "They've increased every year, and last year was a bigger increase than we expected."

Fleisher said he attributes the increased success rate in Dallas to all elements of the district. "When you have these types of significant results, the teachers are doing their jobs, the administration is doing its job, the community is doing its job. They're so much better than any other urban district, everybody has to be doing great work for this to happen."

So it's interesting that this rather astonishing story has gained little to no traction -- hey, I blame myself, -not just The Dallas Morning News, which deserves huge blame -- while everybody has been so busy doing stories about Mean Mean Mr. Miles and how he makes the kids take too many tests. This year's increase in minority AP test takers and passers is an important reflection of Miles' emphasis on rigor and measurement, and it makes an important point about why tests are important.

Tests get people admitted to college. Tests get people hired. Tests get people paid.

Private school kids take tests and tests and tests. Is there some reason public school kids and especially minority students shouldn't have that same advantage?

OK, now my head hurts from too many numbers, so I'll have to get back to regular Three Stooges coverage and whether the school trustee called the lady in the district headquarters a trick. No she didn't! Yes she did! No she didn't! But I thought you might like to have this brief peek at the actual educational process. Yes she did! No she didn't!

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