Rural students in AP Physics summer program again achieve dramatic gains

Students in the AP physics summer preparatory academy conducted by Mississippi State and the Global Teaching Project build a spaghetti tower during a lesson. Students in the two-week program achieved dramatic gains in their understanding of physics. (Global Teaching Project)

STARKVILLE, Miss.—For the second consecutive summer, students from rural Mississippi who attended a residential AP Physics preparatory program conducted by Mississippi State University and the Global Teaching Project achieved dramatic gains in substantive understanding of course content, according to nationally recognized pre- and post-program assessments utilized by the American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT).

From June 9-19, 49 students from 13 Mississippi high schools in 11 school districts participated in an immersive math and physics program on the MSU campus to help them prepare to take AP Physics 1 in the upcoming academic year at their schools. 

The program and the AP STEM classes offered during the academic year are part of a pilot program implemented by the Global Teaching Project to provide promising students in rural and low-income school districts access to the rigorous courses they need to achieve their full potential, but who attend schools that otherwise would not offer such courses, often due to a chronic shortage of qualified teachers. Additional Mississippi schools and students not represented at the summer program also will participate in the Global Teaching Project’s AP Physics 1 course.
Students were selected for the program by their schools based on their exceptional academic promise, but often had gaps in their academic foundation. The preparatory program seeks to mitigate these gaps, and student test results affirm that this summer’s program again achieved that goal.

Students made dramatic gains in the Force Concept Inventory (FCI), a widely used assessment recognized by the AAPT as a standard measure of knowledge among advanced high school or introductory college physics students. The FCI, administered at the beginning and end of physics courses, is used to “assess students’ understanding of the most basic concepts in Newtonian Physics,” with a focus on mechanics, forces, and kinematics.

Students in the 11-day program nearly doubled their average FCI scores, from 23.1 to 43.3. These results are very similar to the FCI scores for the 2018 summer program, even though this year’s program served substantially more students and more schools.

Of the 45 students in this year’s program who took both the pre- and post-program assessments, 43 increased their scores, one had an identical score, and one had a single fewer correct answer; 24 students—over half the examinees—at least doubled their scores. Moreover, students whose pre-assessment results were both at the lowest and highest ends of the tested cohort both earned sharply higher scores. “Hake,” or “normalized,” gains, which discount increases from relatively low baselines, also were considerable.

The test data shows that, at the program’s outset, the Mississippi students were, on average, less prepared than a nationwide sample of high school students commencing the study of Newtonian physics. By the end, participants were, on average, more prepared.

Anna Creekmore and Dane Peagler, both MSU alumni and Mississippi high school science teachers, led the instruction. Additional instruction was provided by faculty from MSU and Yale, as well as by tutors from MSU, Yale, the University of Virginia, and Scripps. Lizzie Brandon, also an MSU alumna and local high school science teacher, served as the program coordinator. 

Devon Brenner, Mississippi State special assistant to the vice president and a professor of curriculum, instruction and special education, said, “We are very pleased that our summer STEM program is thriving, drawing even more talented students from around the state while continuing to achieve great results.”

MSU and the Global Teaching Project work with the Mississippi Public School Consortium for Educational Access (MPSCEA), an entity comprised of public school districts that has been formed to facilitate AP access for their students. 

Each of the participating school districts—which are located in the Delta, northeast, and central parts of the state—are characterized by the U.S. Department of Education as rural, low-income districts. Several serve some of the most impoverished areas in America. Among over 3,000 U.S. counties, Census data indicate that just 10 have over 1,000 school age (5-17) residents and school age poverty rates over 50 percent; students from four of those 10 counties attended the AP Physics summer program.

Matt Dolan, founder and CEO of the Global Teaching Project, said, “Our students continue to demonstrate that there are potentially high-achieving students everywhere, who, if provided quality instruction and sufficient academic supports, can excel regardless of their zip code.”

For more on the Global Teaching Project and MPSCEA, visit and

Friday, June 28, 2019 - 2:30 pm