Nationally, the program boasts impressive statistics: Of the 34,234 AVID students graduating in 2013, 86 percent were accepted to a four-year university and 77 percent took at least one advanced course that year. Seniors had an average GPA of 3.2.
In Lakeville, now in its sixth year with AVID, 100 percent of the three graduating classes are attending a postsecondary institution, said Cynthia Hays, Lakeville’s equity coordinator.
Bridging the gap?
For some AVID teachers, there’s so much excitement surrounding the program that Washington Post columnist and education writer Jay Mathews noticed “an almost cultlike enthusiasm for their work.”
Are there any negatives to the program? Possibly, according to Jim Bierma, a University of Minnesota professor and school counselor for 21 years. Bierma also directs Ramp-Up To Readiness, a University of Minnesota college preparation program. AVID is very expensive, he said. “I think that’s one of the downsides of it.”
This year, the Rosemount district spent $283,364 on AVID, including membership fees, elective teacher salaries, substitute teachers, college tutors, curriculum, professional development and transportation for field trips.
In Burnsville, the total was $523,000 for similar costs, said Lisa Rider, director of business services. All of the program’s “core needs” are covered by integration funding from the state.
And even though Lakeville, Burnsville-Eagan-Savage and Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan have had AVID for anywhere from four to nine years, the achievement gap between white and black or Hispanic students still ranged from 19 percentage points to more than 40 on 2013 reading and math MCAs, according to the Minnesota Department of Education.
“We indeed have an achievement gap,” said Renee Brandner, principal at Nicollet Junior High. “I think most schools in Minnesota are still challenged.”
There are several reasons the gap persists, including the growing diversity of the suburbs. Also, the state continues to make the MCAs more rigorous, making annual comparisons hard.
Brandner noted that, other than seventh-grade math scores, seventh- and eighth-grade AVID students at Nicollet scored slightly higher on math, science and reading MCAs in 2012-13 than non-AVID students.
But another reason the program hasn’t made a larger dent is the relatively small number of students enrolled in AVID. In the Rosemount, Burnsville and Lakeville districts, just 200 to 400 students participate.
It can also be hard to measure achievement gap progress made by AVID because the program seeks out motivated students with potential, Brandner said. Typically, counselors or teachers identify students to apply, and students must go through an interview process.
Wells said one concern she has about AVID is that “it can only touch so many students.”
Mariani said calling out AVID’s limited scope is “a fair criticism” of the program. However, its small-scale successes are significant and “better than what we have right now,” he said.
Bierma said he’s seen the program reduce the achievement gap when implemented well at schools in Minneapolis and St. Paul. Success relies on how well an academic program is put into practice, he added.
But for students like McMahon, progress can be measured on an individual level. She now believes she can make it to college even though her parents didn’t go. “I think [my parents] have seen a real difference [in me] not only at school, but also in my character,” she said. “They really wish they had had this class in high school.”