SALEM — After being battered with bad news for the past year, the Salem public schools got some good news yesterday when state Secretary of Education Paul Reville came here to praise Salem High School for its strong performance on the most recent round of Advanced Placement tests.
“Congratulations on your hard work,” Reville said to an audience of Salem High students enrolled in the rigorous AP classes, which are given in different subject areas and are similar to college-level work. “These are outstanding results to celebrate today.”
Salem High has seen steady improvement in its AP test scores, participation and course offerings over the past few years, due in large part to support from a new program, the Massachusetts Math & Science Initiative.
In 2010, the year before the school system entered the program, Salem High students had only 42 “qualifying” scores of 3 or higher (AP scores go from 1-5) in math, science and English. Last year, the school had 126 qualifying scores in those subjects, which often allow students to get college credit or be exempted from one or more classes once they get to college.
In other words, the number of top, or qualifying, scores tripled at Salem High in two years.
The number of students taking all AP courses at Salem High jumped from 107 to 157 over the past three years, according to statistics provided by the school. Those results, which included history and other AP subjects, also showed solid gains on test scores. AP tests are given every May.
Salem High beat state and national averages in the percentage of top scores, according to MMSI officials.
“You should be thrilled and proud of what you have done ...” state Rep. John Keenan said. “Salem is outperforming the state and, quite frankly, outperforming the country.”
MMSI officials announced statewide results yesterday for the 61 high schools participating in what it calls the state’s “largest academic high school math and science program aimed at underserved students.”
They pointed to significant gains for minority and low-income students and overall results beating state and national averages.
Locally, Peabody High, Danvers High and Salem Academy Charter School also participate in the program.
Qualifying scores at Danvers High went from 119 in 2011, the year before it enrolled in MMSI, to 161 last year; Peabody High’s qualifying scores skyrocketed from 66 in 2009 to 246 last year. Salem Academy Charter School has more than doubled the number taking AP math, science and English classes and also improved test scores.
Massachusetts is one of six states taking part in a national campaign to raise scores in math and science, an effort backed by, among others, Exxon Mobil Corp. and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation,
In this state, MMSI was organized by Mass Insight Education, a nonprofit, with private and public funding.
In addition to encouraging schools to boost AP participation, MMSI provides training for teachers in a one-week summer institute and tutoring for students through three Saturday sessions.
One part of the program that has drawn attention is the financial incentives. Under a current grant, students are paid $100 for every qualifying score, and teachers receive $100 for every student who scores 3 or higher.
“One hundred dollars is nice,” Salem High Principal Dave Angeramo said, “but you don’t do it for $100. There is a huge amount of work that goes into it.”
Yesterday’s celebration stood in sharp contrast to last fall, when Salem learned it had been designated a Level 4 district by the state based on low scores in the statewide MCAS exams, which are given to elementary, middle and high school students. That designation triggered a turnaround effort and a number of new initiatives under way this school year.
At Salem High, for example, Angeramo said they are doing all they can to encourage students to take AP courses.
“One thing we try to stress is to reach for high goals,” he said at yesterday’s ceremony. “The AP courses can be for everyone, not just a few.”
Tom Dalton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.