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Dallas ISD Paving the Way for Advanced Placement Student Success

Here at NMSI, we have seen tremendous results with our AP program, both on a national level, and at state levels, but perhaps one of our great success stories is right here in our own backyard – Dallas Independent School District (DallasISD). Over the life of the program, we have seen phenomenal increases in passing AP scores – 527% for all students, and 1415% for African-American and Hispanic students!
But what is the point of a bunch of numbers without a compelling story? To help fill in the details and provide context for the results, we interviewed NMSI Program Director Dorinda Rickels, a former DallasISD teacher who taught AP calculus for 6 years, and is absolutely thrilled by how well her old district is doing. The following is entirely in her own words regarding her experiences with the AP program in Dallas, how it has changed over the years, what she thinks have been the biggest successes, and the story of one student who truly stood out to her.

 The Dallas ISD AP program is a beacon of excellence, not just for the district, but for the value of the AP program in general.  I taught AP Calculus in the district for six years and most of my students were not what most would consider elite students.  Most were low income students and quite a few were either not citizens or their parents were not citizens.  But when placed in an educational setting where much was expected of them, as AP does, they flourished academically.  The possibility of not only attending college, but of being able to get scholarships and completing a degree was within their grasp. I witnessed that the infrastructure provided by NMSI’s Comprehensive Training Program pushed both teachers and students to perform at higher levels. 
Regarding the program itself, though, the components of the program really haven’t changed much since it began in 1996.  It includes incentives for teachers and students if the students make a qualifying score on AP math, science or English exams, Saturday study sessions, training for teachers and lead AP teachers who are the driving force behind the program. These components are responsible for helping many teachers become even better teachers, and are giving thousands of Dallas students the confidence that they can be successful in college. In the beginning, most of the funding to support the program came from private donors.  Now, the district plays a larger role in the program funding.  I am excited that this year Dallas ISD plans to pay for all the AP exams taken in the district and also plans to pay for all juniors to take the SAT.  That’s a real commitment to college readiness. 
The real evolution of Dallas’s AP program has been the increase in the number of AP exams taken in the district and the continued increase in qualifying scores every year – not just in math, science and English, but in all disciplines.  There is still a lot of work to do, we are aware of that, but the continued annual success of Dallas ISD’s AP program is a shining star for the district.  The amazing principals and AP teachers who are fighting for these students and pushing them to succeed are my heroes.
And in closing, I have a story about a student I will never forget. It was the first year that I taught AP in Dallas, and I had a student who came to the United States when he was five.  He spoke no English when he arrived and his parents spoke limited English when I met them his junior year. He was a very quiet, reserved young man but he picked up the language of mathematics like a sponge, making a 5 on the Calculus BC exam his junior.  He went on the University of Texas, majoring in pre-med and math.  I wish I knew where he is now, but with a few changes this story could describe many of the students I taught in Dallas. Based on the students that I taught, I’ve got to believe that Dallas’s AP program is responsible for changing a lot of lives and producing more STEM majors in the process. 
Just as Dorinda said, the story of that student is just one of thousands in not only the Dallas Independent School District, but across the country as well. NMSI is actively changing lives by changing the culture of our schools, and we are just getting started.
For more information about NMSI’s Comprehensive AP Program, visit www.nms.org/DISD., or contact Dorinda Rickels at drickels@nms.org.