NORTH ADAMS -- In a single year, Drury High School has not only increased its number of Advanced Placement class enrollments by 135 percent, but has also nearly doubled the number of students earning qualifying scores on the AP exams.
The high school's increase in AP course enrollments, which jumped from a total of 81 in fall 2012 to 216 this academic year, is the result of its partnership with the Massachusetts Math + Science Initiative (MMSI), an organization that aims to dramatically increase students' participation and performance in AP courses, according to school officials.
"Something very special is happening here at Drury High School," John A. Smolenski, director of enrollment services for MMSI, said during a kick-off event for the new academic year at the school on Tuesday. "We've seen a 92 percent increase in the number of students taking AP English and a 75 percent increase in the number of students taking an AP course in one of the STEM [science, technology, engineering and math] fields."
Since becoming one of two pilot sites in Berkshire County last year, Drury has increased its AP course offerings from five to eight and had the number of students receiving scores of 3, 4 or the maximum score of 5, nearly double from 21 to 41 students. In 2008, the high school had 8 students score 3 or above on the AP exams.
"A score of 3 or better is a college credit-qualifying score. At some schools it's worth $3,000 to $4,000 in tuition costs," Smolenski told the packed auditorium. "These AP courses are the equivalent of a first-year course at the university level. When you take the AP English course here at Drury High School, you're taking the same course that freshman are taking at college all around the county. You'll come out of it with college-level reading and writing skills."
MMSI, a five-year, $30 million project organized by the Boston-based nonprofit Mass Insight Education, in partnership with state and private funders, trains teachers to use the AP course curriculum and exams as tools to engage students. It offers strategy classes for students on Saturdays and incentives such as raffles featuring iPods and gift cards for attendance.
"You are already ahead in college," MCLA Dean of Academic Affairs Monica Joslin told the students during Tuesday's celebration. "Whether you enroll in a duel enrollment course at a local college while in high school or enroll in an AP class and earn a qualifying score, you are ahead in college. We are all so proud of you."
This year Drury and Lee High School, the other pilot program in the county, are being joined by Taconic High School. Hoosac Valley High School and Pittsfield High School have articulation agreements with MMSI and hope to join next fall.
But an increase in scores and course participation isn't the only outcome the organization is looking for.
"We want everyone in this room to succeed," Smolenski said. "We want you to take the most challenging classes you can. College admissions counselors aren't just looking at grades, they're looking at the type of classes you took. There's a finite number of seats at every college. Taking an AP course can get you a seat at a college that you want to go to."
Mayor Richard J. Alcombright told the student body that they should be proud of themselves for their achievements, while also praising the high school administration, faculty and staff for its role.
"If the courses weren't delivered at the levels they're delivered at; if the teachers didn't care at the level they care and if you all didn't perform at the level you perform at, we wouldn't be here with such good news today," he said. "For those of you enrolled in these AP courses, that's wonderful. For those of you who are not, that's wonderful too. Everyone learns at a different level and in a different way. My message today is simple -- excel at what you do. When you come here everyday, find a passion for being here. Make it a goal to do well and to succeed. By these numbers today I see you are succeeding -- I am very proud of you."