After the success of two Aiken County schools taking different approaches to Advanced Placement courses, a third will now join South Aiken and North Augusta high schools. Silver Bluff High School will now become a National Math and Science Initiative school, giving students the opportunity to better prepare for college.
Aiken County Public Schools’ Superintendent Dr. Sean Alford made the announcement following a presentation by Paige Day, assistant principal at North Augusta, and Martha Messick, assistant principal at South Aiken, at the Toast the Transformation Breakfast on Monday morning. North Augusta and South Aiken collectively have more than 1,000 students, 20 courses and 33 teachers in their AP programs. Previously, those courses were only available to certain qualifying students.
Throughout the school year, AP students focus on college level curriculum, often coming in on Saturdays for special study sessions. At the end of the year, they take an AP exam which is graded on a scale from one to five. Students who earn a three or higher may receive college credit.
Day noted that one of North Augusta’s math AP courses that previously had a 90 to 95 percent pass rate from students’ scores, only had 10 to 12 students enrolled in the course. “Who was that program really serving? Was it serving us or was it serving our students to prepare them for college?”
NMSI’s College Readiness Program gives more students the opportunity to enroll in AP courses throughout their high school career. Initially, there was skepticism; Parents and teachers were concerned about a nearly 100 percent pass rate turning into a 50 percent pass rate. Teachers were provided with NMSI mentors and professional development to help them adjust to bigger class sizes and other changes they would experience.
“It’s not about what we think students can do or what we think they might be able to do; It’s what they actually can do,” Messick said.
Sarah Crews, a senior at North Augusta, came to school with the intent of taking the highest level of courses she could. After completing AP Government her sophomore year, she enrolled for three courses her junior year and passed all the exams, earning college credit. She is now enrolled in three classes this year.
Benefits to taking AP courses are more than earning college credit. Day said that students who enroll in AP courses perform better than those who do not, even if they did not earn a qualifying score on the AP exam. And while many parents believe a student’s GPA is the biggest qualifier for college acceptance and scholarship opportunities, Messick said colleges look at the strength of the curriculum more than overall average.
The benefits of the NMSI program seem to be paying off for schools as well.
“We had to make a lot of tough decisions, and everyone wasn’t always happy with the decisions we had to make, but in the end, I think our success shows that we’re on the right path,” Messick said.
In the 2016-2017, North Augusta had a 96.8 percent increase in AP enrollment and another 49.97 percent for 2017-2018. This year saw 91 qualifying scores and more than 300 college credits earned by students.
South Aiken saw an almost 95 percent increase in enrollment in 2016-2017, especially in math courses with enrollment jumping from 89 students in 2015-2016 to 221. There’s been a 10 percent increase this year.
Of the 195 schools in South Carolina that administered AP exams, South Aiken ranked fourth and North Augusta sixth in terms of increases in qualifying math, science and English courses.
Messick and Day admitted to having a friendly competition among their schools, but now another Aiken school will be joining the race. Because of the success and strong support of the community, Alford said, Silver Bluff became the third school in Aiken County to become a NMSI school after its application was approved last week.
“We have a very small AP program right now,” Burt Postell, principal of Silver Bluff, said. “Give me three years with NMSI and that’s gonna blow up.”