Rachmad Tjachyadi collects homework assignments from his AP chemistry students at W.T. White High School in Dallas ISD.
Rachmad Tjachyadi teaches AP chemistry at White High in Dallas

Taking Advanced Placement courses — and passing the end-of course exams — helps students earn college credits, prepare for challenging courses and get into top colleges. Latino, black, low-income and first-generation students are less likely to earn AP credits — but a Dallas initiative is changing that.

Black and Latino students in Dallas high schools pass the Advanced Placement exams at the highest rate in the country, reports KERA News.

The National Math and Science Initiative has encouraged students to try AP courses.  The Dallas nonprofit “offers Saturday study sessions, pays the hefty exam fees for students, gathers teachers together for professional development and even gives teachers better books or lesson plans if they need them,” reports KERA.

In 1996, when NMSI started working with Dallas high schools, 75 black and Latino students passed at least one AP exam. Last year, 1,270 students passed.

As more Dallas students take an AP exam, the pass rate has fallen. But the overall number of passing students is higher.

Anyone can take his AP chemistry course, said Rachmad Tjachyadi, who teaches at W.T. White High School. Not everyone will pass. “We’re not going to drop the standard for students who have gaps in their preparation,” he said.

Gregg Fleisher, NMSI’s chief academic officer,  would rather see 20 out of 40 students pass an AP physics exam, for example, than 10 out of 10, reports KERA. “What is better for our country — to have twice as many proficient and 20 more who tried it?” he says. “Quite frankly, I think 12 out of 40 is better than 10 out of 10.”

NMSI gives $100 to each student who passes a math, science or English exam, and $100 to the teacher for each passing student. That means that if all 55 of Tjachyadi’s students pass the chemistry exam, he’ll get a check for $5,500. Last year, he got a nice $2,600 for his passing students—right at Christmas time.

Even students who fail the exam can benefit from the challenge, he says. A former student, Grace Knott got a 1 on the chemistry exam, the lowest grade. However, when half of her classmates failed college chemistry, she was “able to keep up was because of the backing that I got in Mr. T’s class,” she said. Knott is now a biology teacher at a Dallas high school.

In California, 21.6 percent of Latino high school graduates passed an AP exam with a grade of 3 (C) or better in 2013, reports College Board, which runs the AP program. That’s approaching the 26 percent pass rate for white graduates. Many schools are encouraging students from Spanish-speaking homes to take AP Spanish. Among black graduates, 10.4 percent earned a 3 or higher. By contrast, 45 percent of Asian-American and Pacific Islander students passed at least one AP exam.

More students are enrolling in AP courses here and across the country. College Board, which runs the AP program, honored Fremont Unified, Milpitas Unified and the Diocese of San Jose for increasing the number of students who take and pass an AP exam.

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