Kirsten Baesler: North Dakota students leverage senior year, get college-ready

BISMARCK--North Dakota is a national leader in energy, paving the way in oil and gas, coal and manufacturing, all while helping our local communities thrive.

Kirsten Baesler

BISMARCK-North Dakota is a national leader in energy, paving the way in oil and gas, coal and manufacturing, all while helping our local communities thrive.

In fact, North Dakota recently earned No. 1 rankings from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation for "Best pipeline of talent," "Best economic performance" and "Best STEM job growth."

But our industries could not-and will not-flourish without quality education in our schools. Businesses rely on today's young people to become the skilled workforce and industry leaders of the future.

To prepare students for these highly specialized jobs, particularly in science and engineering, it is imperative that we raise the bar to provide them with a rigorous education. Equally important, we must create professional development opportunities to support our teachers in providing students with the best education possible.

As state superintendent of public instruction, I can attest first-hand that our schools and teachers are working together to achieve solid outcomes, and they continue to improve over time as indicated by our state scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, also known as the nation's report card.


Now we must further improve our students' preparedness for college and the workplace. One measurable, proven approach to elevating outcomes for all students is expanding access to rigorous coursework such as Advanced Placement (AP) courses and supporting student success in that work.

AP is one of the most powerful tools we can use to prepare students for college-but in 2014, North Dakota ranked at the bottom nationwide in the percentage of high school students who took AP courses. Adding to that, more than 40 percent of the state's students attending North Dakota University System colleges and universities require remedial coursework in math and/or English.

We can do better, and we are making a dedicated effort to improve student preparedness.

To support our goals, the National Math and Science Initiative and ExxonMobil will expand NMSI's College Readiness Program in districts across North Dakota. With an investment up to $13 million, this is a tremendous opportunity for our students and teachers.

The Greater North Dakota Chamber of Commerce, local businesses, higher education and our talented educators have come together to applaud this partnership and highlight the need to raise matching funds to reach every high school in the state in future years.

The initiative's readiness program works with school districts to increase the number of students participating and succeeding in college-level coursework in math, science and English while expanding access to traditionally underrepresented students.

In just one year, the program boosts the number of AP qualifying scores in those subjects by 10 times the national average.

And not only do AP courses introduce students to the challenges of college coursework, but also research shows that students who succeed in these courses are more likely than their peers to earn college degrees on time. That's a win-win for our state and our students.


Because it is so successful, NMSI's College Readiness Program has expanded to more than 750 schools across 30 states and the District of Columbia to date. North Dakota is proud to join this illustrious list.

Indeed, this partnership with NMSI and ExxonMobil and its subsidiary, XTO Energy, perfectly aligns with North Dakota's recent launch of "Leveraging the Senior Year," an initiative I developed to ensure all students grow academically during senior year of high school.

Through this program, we make sure that high school seniors get the instruction and preparation they need to take credit-bearing classes in college. And for students who have taken all available courses in high school, we connect them with options for advanced coursework.

Together, "Leveraging the Senior Year" and NMSI's College Readiness Program will dramatically increase student enrollment and success on AP exams and enhance students' preparedness for whatever path they pursue.

North Dakota's strong economic outlook starts with our teachers and students and the education young people get in our schools and state universities. ExxonMobil and NMSI have made a financial investment in our state. Now it's our responsibility to support this proven program and to make the commitment to ensure our students get the most out of it.

Baesler is North Dakota's state superintendent of public instruction.

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