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National Science Foundation awards ASU's Polytechnic campus $4.5 million to help rural school children improve math, science ski


March 25, 2002

Twenty-two rural Arizona schools are looking to Arizona State University's Polytechnic campus for much-needed help in improving their students' math and science skills. That help is on its way, thanks to a $4.5 million grant recently awarded ASU's Polytechnic campus's American Indian Programs by the National Science Foundation.

The five-year grant permits the ASU's Polytechnic campus program to help 22 K-12 rural Arizona schools design action plans, develop up-to-date curricula and work with teachers and administrators on leadership strategies to improve lagging student performance on standardized tests.

Poverty rates range from 31 percent to 74.5 percent in these rural Arizona school communities, according to American Indian Programs director Phillip Huebner. He points to statistics showing that in the year 2000, 78 percent of American Indian and 70 percent of Hispanic students fell far below the mathematics standard on Arizona's soon-to-be-required AIMS test. Huebner says that fewer than three percent of American Indian students and fewer than six percent of Hispanic students met or exceeded the standard, as contrasted with 22 percent of the Anglo students.

Karen Brighton, principal administrator of the NSF grant to ASU's Polytechnic campus, said these numbers are of particular concern in Arizona since in 2004, a passing score on the AIMS test will become a requirement for high school graduation. It comes as no surprise to Brighton that current student achievement is low in science as well as math, since the AIMS test does not yet include science and a number of the grant's targeted elementary schools still do not require that all students receive science instruction.

Laying groundwork over the past year, ASU's Polytechnic campus has established a collaboration of 22 rural schools from seven Arizona public school districts and two Bureau of Indian Affairs agencies. The consortium, known as the Arizona Rural Systemic Initiative represents a total student enrollment of 9,698. Forty percent of that number are Hispanic, 34 percent American Indian, 22 percent Anglo and four percent other ethnicities.

The participating schools range from those serving American Indian students in remote White Mountain Apache areas, to those with predominantly Hispanic enrollment on the Arizona-Mexico border, to those serving a mix of ethnicities in old Arizona mining towns and agricultural areas.

The grant-supported plan stresses flexibility, technical assistance and leadership training designed to create collaborative educational systems with high levels of learning in mathematics and science.

Brighton said over the next five years, the initiative will use a Web-accessible database containing test scores, and other relevant information from the participating schools.

"The database will include information to help teachers assess the skills of each student as well as to aid administrators in looking at a wide range of factors that contribute to success in math and science," Brighton said. "You won't have to be skilled in statistical analysis to use the Web-based data effectively. We will provide on-site support to guide teachers and administrators in using the database and assessing possibilities for input."

"Although this grant is substantial, it still does not meet the needs that exist at these schools," Huebner said. "The initiative is only one of many ways the American Indian Programs seek to increase the numbers of American Indians and other underrepresented minorities who enroll in college and university math and science programs. Thanks to grant support from agencies like the NSF and individual private and corporate partners who share our goals, we are here for the long haul."

Corporate partners with ASU's Polytechnic campus in the project include Intel, Motorola and Microsoft.

For additional information, contact Huebner at 480-727-1036.