In Greensboro, North Carolina, Terry Grier was known as that (
crazy) guy who gave a car away every year.
Grier, now slightly more than one year into his superintendency in Houston, used that dramatic, crowd-pleasing technique to up the number of kids taking Advanced Placement classes. Kids who took a certain number of courses and scored a 3 or better (out of 5) got a chance to fish a set of car keys out of a bucket and see if they had the magic ones that would turn on a car that they could then drive away and keep.
That story was retold today by Gaston Caperton, the former governor of West Virginia who's now president of the College Board, as he joined Grier in announcing a collaborative effort for more "academic rigor" at the middle and high school level in HISD as they try to get more kids to take Advanced Placement courses and their accompanying final exams.
Under the proposal, middle and high schools in HISD will be able to achieve special designations of "pre-AP" and "AP" schools by meeting certain criteria.
Middle schools must commit to the "ReadiStep" program in the sixth through eighth grades (designed to better prepare them for high school). They also have to test at least 80 percent of native Spanish speakers in the AP Spanish Language test and offer pre-algebra to 6th-8th graders and algebra 1 to 7th and 8th graders.
The idea of the Spanish Language test is to persuade Hispanic students that college is in fact for them with the idea being that native speakers might do pretty well on this and be encouraged to continue in higher-level courses.
The high school criteria gets even tougher. To be considered an AP high school, the school must offer at least 15 AP courses (up from this year's 10) , ensure that every 10th, 11th and 12th grader takes at least one AP course (maybe not some of the special ed kids) and offer "an effective AP program" which the district defines as 40 percent of all AP exams earn a 3 or higher.
A student taking an AP course and scoring 3 or higher can get credit at many colleges and universities in the country, thereby reducing higher education costs.
All 8th graders and all 10th graders will be tested for college readiness.
Along with this will be all sorts of hard core training and retraining of teachers. And as he said before, Grier repeated that if AP teachers aren't meeting their marks, they won't be teaching courses any longer.
Students in the 9th-11th grades will take the PSAT with expenses paid for by the Texas Education Agency and HISD. The PSAT (also the gateway to National Merit Scholarships) is used as a screener to determine college and AP course study readiness, Grier said. It won't be used to keep kids out of AP courses, but to discover ones who should be taking the tougher courses.
Also, the district is going to make it possible for kids to take their 11th grade SAT during the school week at their home school, Grier said. SATs are normally given on only certain Saturday dates and students often have to drive to other (unfamiliar) schools to take the test -- another discouraging part of the process.
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Getting back to the Greensboro car giveaway, Caperton said an associate of his told him "That's not the image we want for AP. That's kind of like a circus."
Caperton decided to check it out for himself and had a completely opposite response.
"AP is an opportunity for every kid," Caperton told his associate. "The television was there, the newspaper was there and people know what AP is."
No word yet on whether there'll be any cars up for grabs in Houston.