STEM education is getting the College Board treatment.
The organization that administers the SAT and Advanced Placement exams announced a new effort Thursday aimed at attracting more high school students to potential careers in science, technology, engineering and math.
The program, launching this fall in partnership with education nonprofit Project Lead The Way, will award a new “credential” to high school students who complete integrated Advanced Placement and Project Lead The Way coursework in engineering, biomedical science or computer science.
Companies in the STEM fields, as well as education organizations like Project Lead The Way, have long lamented how U.S. schools teach science, technology, engineering and math. Dry coursework disconnected from real-world applications, they argue, has repelled thousands of students and left many others ill-prepared to pursue STEM majors or careers, causing a shortfall of qualified workers.
“By 2020, almost two-thirds of jobs will require postsecondary education and training, and that statistic really brings to light a need to focus on college and career readiness,” says Anne Jones, senior vice president and chief program officer at Project Lead The Way. “You need to bring new and innovative and creative ideas, and to make those better, you need a strong foundation. You need fluency in math, fluency in science – and that is really the area where we have seen an opportunity for people to have applied and academic experience.”
The new program, she says, combines those different, critical elements.
Each of the initiative’s three pathways – engineering, biomedical science and computer science – will consist of three parts: an introductory “on-ramp” class produced by Project Lead The Way, an Advanced Placement class the year after, and then a “specialization” class by Project Lead The Way that more deeply explores specific careers or topics, such as electronics engineering, artificial intelligence, cybersecurity and aerospace engineering.
“An AP calculus course could be forbidding, but the Project Lead The Way courses will fit prior to AP as a way of bringing a group of students into that learning environment, building their foundational skills and getting them excited about taking an AP course,” says Trevor Packer, a senior vice president for The College Board and head of the organization’s Advanced Placement Program. “Then following the AP course, the student has the chance to take a specialization course that is very career-focused.”
Students who have completed the Project Lead The Way, Advanced Placement and specialization classes by the end of the 2015-16 school year will receive the program’s first credentials next summer. Those credentials will be marked on students’ transcripts for college admissions officers to see.
“Admissions officers clearly value students taking the most rigorous courses, but they also want to put a stop to any sort of arms race,” Packer says. The credential offers students the chance to "make more nuanced and principled decisions as they go through high school and tamp down on the rush to take more AP courses for AP’s sake.”
Schools that offer the integrated College Board and Project Lead The Way classes will also be awarded their own credentials, an incentive the organizations hope will encourage schools to participate.