Project Raising Pupils' Sights Called Success

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An experimental project that encouraged minority students in a Texas county to move into advanced courses--and prepared district teachers to teach such courses--has been so successful that one of its sponsors, the College Board, would like to provide assistance to other groups interested in developing similar programs.

The program, officially known as "Options for Excellence," and unofficially as "The San Antonio Project," was developed in Bexar County--a primarily rural area that includes San Antonio. With a student population about 60 percent Hispanic and 10 percent black, the 17 school districts participating in the Bexar County experiment previously offered few college-preparatory courses, and most of their minority students were not in the "mainstream" of college-bound students, said Michael J. Balint, executive director of the Minnie Stevens Piper Foundation, which gave $1 million for the project.

Foundation officials asked the College Board--the nonprofit organization that administers the nation's largest standardized-testing programs for students--to develop a project that would help the districts increase academic opportunities for the bulk of their students.

The College Board devised a program that used testing to identify students capable of more challenging work, guided the districts in preparing teachers to teach more college-preparatory courses, and helped encourage minority students to raise their academic sights, said spokesmen for the foundation and the testing organization.

The testing process began during the 1981-82 school year with the Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (psat) said Quentin Jones, director of the College Board's special projects office in San Antonio.

The preliminary test was offered to all students free of charge. Normally, students pay to take the test and only those who are considering college take it. But because of the project, the number of Bexar students taking the test rose from 6,000 in 1981 to 14,000 in 1982, Mr. Jones said. Few of the county's minority students had been among those who traditionally took the standardized tests in preparation for college, Mr. Jones said, but about 60 percent of the 14,000 who took the psat last school-year were minority students.

And because students who ordinarily would not see themselves as college-bound have been identified and encouraged, participation in advanced-placement courses has increased significantly, Mr. Jones said. Only one of Bexar County's 49 schools offered advanced-placement courses when the experiment began two years ago, but today 32 schools do so, according to the College Board. The number of students taking such courses doubled in the past year and 40 percent of that group are minority students.

One school in a remote part of the county, he noted, "where there's nothing much but horses and cows," has had particular success with the program. Before 1980, only 17 of 100 seniors applied to college; last year, almost 50 percent of the graduating class applied.

The project also supports inser6vice training for teachers. More than 100 of the county's high-school teachers have received $1,500 stipends to attend advanced-placement institutes at four universities, and another 50 teachers will participate next year. In addition, the project has held conferences and seminars for secondary-school teachers and administrators in the district.

Post-High School Performance

The College Board plans to continue the project in San Antonio for several more years, Mr. Jones said, and will begin to track Bexar County students through college to see how the program affects their post-high-school academic performance.

College Board officials said last week that their regional offices will be equipped to provide assistance to other localities interested in developing similar projects.

Vol. 03, Issue 07

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