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Livingston schools are better preparing students for college through AP testing thanks to new grant

Livingston Parish AP exams

Livingston Parish schools took a big step forward in its offerings of Advanced Placement courses this past school year.

With help from a national grant program, the school system administered 700 more tests in 2018 than in the previous year, an increase of 50 percent. Passing grades stayed at 38 percent, which is slightly above last year's state average.

"That's a huge positive," said Jody Purvis, supervisor of instruction for Livingston Parish Public Schools.

School officials are giving a lot of credit for the uptick to the National Math and Science Initiative, a program that funded five Livingston Parish schools — and will add a sixth this coming school year — to expand and improve their AP programs in English, math and science.

AP courses are college-level classes offered at high schools. Year-end tests are graded on a scale of 1 to 6, and students earning a 3 or higher can qualify for credit at colleges nationwide.

The Louisiana Department of Education has been pushing schools to add AP courses since 2011, although the state has been stuck towards the bottom of national lists that rank the number of kids earning college credit through the program. The state also falls short of national averages for the test scores.

Some school districts in Louisiana have been getting help from the National Math and Science Initiative, which is distributing a $13 million grant from ExxonMobil.

In Livingston Parish, Albany High, Denham Springs High, Live Oak High, Springfield High and Walker High were selected for the NMSI program this past year. French Settlement High School will start working with the program this coming school year.

The national program is pumping $2.7 million into the Livingston Parish School System for teacher training, student study sessions, classroom materials and financial awards for test takers over a three-year period. Similar awards have been made in East Baton Rouge, West Baton Rouge and Ascension parishes.

At the five Livingston Parish schools participating in NMSI last year, there was a 48 percent increase in the number of tests given. Overall, the number of students passing the exams rose by 4 percent. 

Fueling the increase was Denham Springs High, where 86 percent more students took AP tests, and the students reaching passing scores rose from 32 to 46 percent. 

Purvis said the school had been ramping up its AP offerings over the past few years, and it benefited from the national program. 

"It was a real focus for that school. They were truly striving to build that program," Purvis said.