Voices and Viewpoints

U.S. News and World Report on Advanced Placement

by Asia Fuller Hamiliton / May 21, 2015

Recently U.S. News and World Report released a report highlighting the nation’s best 250 STEM high schools. STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) education has garnered a great deal of attention in recent years, with reports that future careers and jobs will require students to possess knowledge and skills within these subject areas.

For a school to become eligible for inclusion on the STEM list, it must have been a gold medal finalist in the U.S. News Best High School list. Schools attaining this recognition have the following attributes: a) demonstrated high performance on state-wide tests, both in overall student performance and within the least advantaged population within their school; and b) had high participation in and performance on Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate exams. Once a school was identified with the gold medal designation, AP STEM exams were used to determine its placement within the top STEM schools in the country. As defined by College Board, AP STEM exams are those from the following courses:

  • Calculus AB,
  • Calculus BC,
  • Computer Science A,
  • Statistics
  • Biology,
  • Chemistry,
  • Environmental Science,
  • Physics B,
  • Physics C: Electricity and Magnetism, and
  • Physics C: Mechanics.

A STEM achievement index was created based on the percentage of all students taking and passing AP STEM Math and Science exams. Higher index rankings resulted in a higher placement on the top STEM schools list.

This compilation is helpful, especially to those who may be interested in looking at the practices and programs that these schools have employed to reach such status. However, those desiring to emulate the success that schools on this list have attained also may wish to consider the following:

  1. Find a school with similar demographics. Many of the schools on this list have very low proportions of students from low-socioeconomic backgrounds. They may have the financial resources to provide lower faculty/student ratios and may be able to access more resources to assist students. Additionally, factors such as the size of the school and the racial/ethnic composition of the school’s enrollment may be factors that schools may want to consider as they look at ways to increase their students’ access to and successful participation in STEM AP courses.
  2. The type of school may have bearing on student outcomes. Many schools on the best high schools list are charter, magnet, or university-based programs, which may indicate they have selective enrollment processes. Schools may be able to select students who would be likely to enroll in AP courses and earn higher scores on these exams.
  3. Look closely at the fine print. Many of the schools that made this list have large percentages of students taking and passing AP exams. Schools may want to consider the percentages of students from underrepresented populations who perform well on state exams compared with their peers.

The bottom line is that educators should view these exemplars critically, consider the strengths of their own high school STEM programs, and work diligently on improving their own programs one aspect at a time.

hamiltonAsia Fuller Hamiltonis a graduate research assistant for the Pathways Resource Center (PRC). Ms. Fuller Hamilton is currently a PhD student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in Education Policy, Organization and Leadership in the division of Educational Administration  and Leadership. She can be reached at afullerh@illinois.edu.

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