Northside ISD is one of three school districts in the nation selected by The College Board to participate in an innovative pilot project geared toward increasing student success in Advanced Placement classes.
The College Board is funding the project with a $3 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education’s Investment in Innovation (i3) program. The money will be used to develop web-based tools and resources that AP Biology teachers can use to better assess and assist their students, with the ultimate goal to better prepare students for college.
AP Biology teachers at Northside ISD and two school districts in Florida are helping The College Board develop a website that eventually will be used by school districts nationwide.
“Northside was selected due to their focus on college readiness and focus on making AP available to broad groups of prepared and motivated students,” said Potoula Chresomales, The College Board’s Executive Director of AP Professional Development, Product Strategy and Management. “They were also selected for their desire to try innovative approaches toward improving student achievement.
“This is a unique opportunity for NISD to be on board as a true partner in an innovative, engaging, and high-profile program that will result in increased success for NISD students,” Chresomales added.
Since the beginning of the school year, Northside ISD AP Biology teachers have had access to a College Board website-in-the-works that offers assessment resources to identify the specific areas in which individual students are struggling. The website also offers focused activities to teach the students the material they have not yet mastered.
In addition, the teachers are provided an online forum to ask each other questions and provide support. That’s key, given the fact that schools typically have only one AP Biology teacher.
“This is a very difficult course,” said Claudia Bosworth, a longtime teacher at Marshall High School who is teaching AP Biology for the first time this year. “The level at which you have to know the information is very deep. I have to study constantly so that I’m prepared for the next day.”
The College Board pilot is preparing AP Biology teachers to instruct students by concepts, instead of by book chapters. Northside already has embraced the idea of concept-driven curriculum, particularly in the core subject areas. Concept-based curriculum makes stronger links between concepts and among different courses to help students make connections and transfer learning to solve complex and real-world problems.
“It’s a whole new style of teaching,” Bosworth said.
Over the past several years, NISD has made a concerted effort to increase student enrollment in AP courses. Since 2006, enrollment in AP courses has risen 21 percent, and now 48.6 percent of all high school students take an AP class.
“The AP program gives students a sense of what college courses are like, and we think that’s something as many students as possible should experience,” said Linda Mora, Deputy Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction. “However, we also want to make sure our teachers and students have the resources they need to be successful in these very rigorous and difficult courses. We’re excited to partner with The College Board so that we can help develop those resources.”
Mora said she’s appreciative of the District’s AP Biology teachers who have spent many hours attending meetings and providing feedback and evaluations to The College Board.
“It’s been a significant time commitment for our teachers, but if we can help our students do better in class and on the AP tests and ultimately in college, then the investment is more than worth it,” Mora said.