College prep resources support future-ready students

Facing intense entrance exams, an ultra-competitive acceptance process and a new chapter in life, high schoolers are under a lot of stress when it comes to planning for college. Luckily, Garland ISD boasts a plethora of resources to get students ready, including free tests, personalized practice and tuition assistance.

Now in its third year, the National Math & Science Initiative (NMSI) program shells out hard-earned cash to students who pass Advanced Placement (AP) exams. The program is backed by a more than $2 million grant from the Texas Instruments Foundation, allowing $100 per qualifying score. This fall, NMSI awarded more than $50,000 to students who earned a 3 or higher on English, math and science AP tests. These honorees were given the star treatment at special pep rallies, receiving checks, cheers and photo ops. 

Supporting students’ efforts to ace AP tests, the district hosts Saturday study sessions several times throughout the year. The four-hour events focus on one subject, reinforce skills learned in the classroom and provide test-taking tips.
Participants  not only receive transportation from each high school to the study location but snacks and the chance to win door prizes as well.

In addition to inspiring and rewarding academic success, AP tests also provide students the opportunity to obtain college credit during high school, which can pad pocketbooks even more. In 2015-16, the district began footing the bill for all AP exams.

“Fees can range from $17-120,” said Advanced Academics Administrator Kristyn Edney. “This may not be affordable. We are excited to give every student the chance to both save money now and in college.”

Because taking the PSAT and SAT prove essential in the path to college, GISD promotes Khan Academy—a free resource that provides practice exercises, instructional videos and a personalized learning dashboard. Accessible by those in sixth-12th grade, Khan Academy can also be linked to College Board—the organization responsible for the SAT and AP program. GISD’s partnership with Khan Academy has led to 100 percent of secondary student accounts linked, according to College Board Senior Director Amanda Dawson.

PSAT and SAT prep has even morphed into special one-day events in GISD. Every eighth-11th grader takes the PSAT for free in October. Juniors also participate in SAT School Day in March. To help train for these important dates, students can attend free PSAT/SAT boot camps at their home campuses. Spring and fall sessions feature a pre-test, 12 lessons and a post-test. 

With the variety of support and resources available, it comes as no surprise that benefits are already being noticed. In 2016, approximately 5,000 students took nearly 11,000 AP exams. Those numbers show a 180 percent and 221 percent increase from 2013, respectively. Average PSAT and SAT scores show an increasing trend as well.