Even before the first day of class in August, Maura Fritzley had second thoughts about taking Advanced Placement physics.
Although she got good grades in a mainstream physics class, Ms. Fritzley, an 18-year-old senior at Brashear High School here, had no intention of becoming a physicist, and A.P. classes, after all, are hard.
She decided she wanted to drop it, then changed her mind and stayed. And she struggled, a lot.
A.P. physics proved far more difficult than the earlier class. “Turns out that I’m not that good,” she said in November.
But Ms. Fritzley is exactly the sort of student Brashear administrators want in A.P. math and science classes — not just the brainiest top achievers, but also the average and above average.
Next week, she will take the advanced placement exam in physics, part of an annual two-week ritual for high school students. The goal is to score 3 or higher on the 1 to 5 scale, which many colleges will reward with course credit.
Brashear’s goal is even higher.
The school is in the first year of a three-year push to greatly expand the reach and success of its A.P. classes, collaborating with the National Math and Science Initiative, a nonprofit organization founded in 2007 to help improve education in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, the so-called STEM fields. The backers of NMSI (the acronym is pronounced NIM-zee) include ExxonMobil, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Lockheed Martin, and the organization won a federal $15 million grant in 2011 to set up similar efforts in Colorado and Indiana.
Brashear has offered A.P. classes in biology, chemistry, physics, computer science, calculus and statistics, but few among the school’s 1,400 students excelled. Last year, of the 159 enrolled in those classes, nearly two-thirds did not even take the tests, which normally cost $89 each. (Because of subsidies by NMSI and the school, the fee this year is as low as $9.)
Just 10 students accounted for the 13 passing scores of 3 or higher. No Brashear student has passed the chemistry exam since 2010, or scored higher than 1 in statistics in the two years that course has been taught.
NMSI expects to change that.
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