Wake Forest University School of Medicine Helps At-Risk High School Students Meet Biology Graduation Requirement

July 22, 2009

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. – Sixteen  rising 10th grade students in the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools who are at risk of failing the North Carolina End-of-Course Test (EOCT) of Biology are participating in a college-level biology enrichment course on the Wake Forest University campus. Now in its third year, the program – including the summer course and follow-up program during the school year – has resulted in 100 percent success on the Biology EOCT for students who have completed the program.

The two-week course began Monday (July 20).

Proficiency in the Biology EOCT is a requirement for graduation from public high school in North Carolina. The summer course is followed by enrollment in an honors biology class during the academic year, weekly tutoring with Wake Forest University School of Medicine students, monthly follow-up meetings at each student’s school and four evening sessions with students and their parents/guardians.

The biology enrichment program, Catalyzing Student Performance for Success in Biology, funded by the R.J. Reynolds Foundation, was designed by Stanford Hill, Ph.D., assistant director of the Center of Excellence for Research, Teaching and Learning (CERTL) at the medical school.  Previously, he served as the science coordinator for the school district for 16 years.

“If K-12 education can begin to shift its focus from remediation to enrichment and look for possibility in students rather than deficiencies, we can really begin to impact the science, technology, engineering and mathematics pipeline, especially with respect to underrepresented minority students,” Hill said.  

A proficient score – level III or IV – on the Biology EOCT was introduced as a graduation requirement for students who began high school in the 2006-2007 school year. In the previous school year, only 59.6 percent of students tested in the school district reached that proficiency level. Only 36.8 percent of African-American students and 40.6% of Latino students achieved level III/IV scores.

            In the spring of 2007, as part of a CERTL pilot program, letters were sent to rising 10th grade students in the district who were largely underrepresented minorities, a group that historically has not performed very well on the Biology EOCT.

            Ultimately 16 students completed that first year-long program, including 13 African-Americans and Latinos. When the students took the Biology EOCT, all 16 met the proficiency requirement.

            Based on previous academic performance, no more than half of these students should have succeeded, Hill said, but with intervention all of them did. Only 64.2 percent of students tested across the district achieved level III or IV scores. During the next academic year, 2008-2009, all 17 students in the second group of the CERTL enrichment program again achieved proficiency.

            If students do not achieve proficiency on the test they may ultimately have to repeat the biology course. Since four units of science are required for graduation, it is unlikely that those students will be able to graduate on time.

            The two-week summer enrichment program, which runs from 8 a.m. to 12 noon in the undergraduate biology teaching laboratories on the Wake Forest Reynolda Campus, offers an inquiry-based, hands-on laboratory experience taught by former Wake Forest biology instructor Ronald Gant Hewett, Ph.D., and by former Wake Forest graduate students. The laboratory exercises are those used in the Wake Forest Biology Department’s core curriculum for undergraduates, and include such activities as creating mazes to allow termites to follow chemical markers.

            During the summer of 2008, a similar program for chemistry was offered. This summer a program in physics has been added. CERTL hopes to expand the enrichment programs not only throughout the district but also nationally, on a trial basis.

The purpose of CERTL is to increase the number of students who successfully participate, progress and achieve in K-12 science and mathematics courses and who pursue undergraduate programs in the sciences, mathematics, engineering and technology fields.

CERTL uses a problem-based learning methodology to offer effective professional development programs for teachers and to design enrichment programs for students.


Media Relations

Bonnie Davis: bdavis@wakehealth.edu, 336-713-1597