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Governor Beebe's Weekly Column and Radio Address: Advancing College Preparation


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School is back in session, and this past week I visited two groups of students and teachers whose work should encourage all of us about our future. El Dorado High School and Amity's Centerpoint High School both participate in the Arkansas Advanced Initiative for Math and Science, or AAIMS. This grant program strengthens teaching in AP math, science and English courses. The result is increased student preparation for high-tech careers. Since becoming part of the AAIMS initiative, Arkansas has seen more students take AP courses, and those students are achieving higher scores on AP tests.

Why is this important? One of this nation's greatest economic and intellectual threats is the declining number of students who are prepared for rigorous college courses in mathematics and science. If students score high enough on AP tests, they can earn college credits for the courses, giving them a step up as they work toward their degrees.

That's why we joined this program in 2007, funded by the National Math and Science Initiative. This past school year, the 39 participating Arkansas schools saw another marked improvement in student performance. The number of students who scored in the proficient category, or better, on AP exams rose an amazing 56 percent in math, science and English. At Centerpoint High School, which joined the program just last year, the improvement was even more staggering. In the two previous school years, only one child earned a score of three or more on an AP test. This past year, that number shot up to 31 students.

El Dorado High School, one of the first schools to participate in the program, has seen a steady rise in AP scores throughout the years. That first year, El Dorado had 46 students whose scores were deemed proficient or higher on the three exams. Last year, there were 140.

We know that as time goes on, more and more jobs in Arkansas will be knowledge-based, demanding specific skills as never before. That is why I have made it our goal to double the number of college graduates in Arkansas by 2025. Advanced Placement courses provide students with valuable preparation for of the work they'll encounter in college. We not only need students to go to college, but we need them to complete their degrees.

There are a number of reasons why AAIMS works. The grant funding pays for additional training for AP teachers. It also provides financial rewards for teachers and students when qualifying scores are achieved. But more than anything else, it raises expectations, and I've admired how our students have repeatedly responded to that challenge. It proves that if we give our young people the opportunity for excellence, they will respond, and often will amaze us.

These AAIMS students are helping to usher in a new era of confidence for the people of our State. Education is the fuel that powers our economy and our prospects for tomorrow. As our students excel academically, we all move faster toward the broader prosperity that is on Arkansas's horizon.

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