Educational leaders from throughout the capitol region converged on Woodlawn High School Monday to highlight a $13 million ExxonMobil grant they credit with dramatically increasing the number of high school students in the state who take and pass college-level courses in math, science and English.

The energy giant has teamed with the Dallas-based nonprofit National Math and Science Initiative to supercharge Louisiana’s participation and success in Advanced Placement, an historic area of weakness for the Pelican state. Students who earn 3, 4 and 5s on AP exams are awarded college credit at many colleges and universities.

ExxonMobil’s grant provides three years worth of help. All participating schools in Louisiana will have exhausted their funding by the end of the 2019-20 school year. At that point, either the schools continue it on their own, other donors fill the gap, or the schools drop the program.

Donald Songy, education policy adviser to Gov. John Bel Edwards and former superintendent of Ascension Parish public schools, urged other companies to follow ExxonMobil’s example.

“We are encouraged by ExxonMobil’s example and think that many other businesses will follow suit,” said Songy.

Woodlawn High is one of 27 public school schools in Louisiana participating in NMSI’s College Readiness Program. The program, first launched in 2007, is in more than 1,200 schools in 34 states.

It began in Louisiana in 2014 with two high schools in Bossier Parish. Baton Rouge Magnet High and McKinley joined in 2015. Woodlawn was of 13 schools that joined in 2016. And 10 more joined in 2017. Twenty-one of those 27 schools are located in the capital region.

East Baton Rouge Parish Superintendent Warren Drake was joined Monday by superintendents from Central as well as Livingston and West Baton Rouge parishes, which all have participating high schools. Drake has the most with six, including Woodlawn.

Drake said the students who participate benefit in a number of ways.

“It gives them a jump on college credits, a jump on their career, a jump on savings for their college education,” he said.

Matthew Randazzo, NMSI’s chief executive officer, estimated that students nationwide have saved more than $300 million in college expenses thanks to their program.

“It gives these kiddos a leg up and an opportunity to thrive,” Randazzo said.

NMSI’s College Readiness Program offers a variety of help for participating schools: a summer training institute, mentors for teachers new to AP, several Saturday help sessions for students at participating schools, and extra money for schools to buy additional AP instructional materials.

The program also pays to student $100 per passing AP exam score; teachers also can earn certain rewards for the program. That has sparked criticism from opponents of such financial incentives who argue that it impairs students’ intrinsic motivation.

NMSI on Monday released an analysis showing that schools participating the College Readiness Program are driving much of the recent growth in both AP participation and success in Louisiana.

NMSI paid special attention to increases in the number of students in Louisiana public high schools who earned 3s or above on AP exams, on a scale of 1 to 5. In 2016-17, those students passed a total of 27,141 AP exams. That’s 948 more than during the previous school year. NMSI found that the 13 schools that started using its College Readiness Program in 2016-17 accounted for more than half of those additional passing scores.

NMSI found that "underrepresented groups” at those 13 schools enjoyed particularly strong growth on this measure: 51 percent growth among females, 65 percent among African-American students and 83 percent among Latino students.

State Superintendent of Education John White, a former high school AP teacher, said those results are encouraging, but just the start.

“We have so far left to go,” White said. “There is no prosperity in this state without educational prosperity.”

Thirty-nine of Woodlawn High's students passed a total of 68 Advanced Placement exams during 2016-17. That was a jump from the year before, when 32 of its students passed only 48 AP exams. And the school's overall passage rate improved from 23 percent to 31 percent.

It’s set to grow further. In December, the public high school was one of just 100 schools nationwide selected by The College Board, the publisher of Advanced Placement, to road test its new Pre-AP program starting with the 2018-19 school year. The high school plans to beef up ninth-grade courses in order to instill in its students the skills needed to excel in AP courses when they become juniors and seniors.

Josue Casco-Rodriguez, a Woodlawn High senior, has already completed nine AP courses and is taking two more this year. He earned $450 last year from NMSI for his passing AP exam scores. He plans to study kinesiology at Rice University. He recently won a QuestBridge National College Match scholarship, which is awarded to a small number of talented low-income students across the country.

Casco-Rodriguez gives special credit to the NMSI Saturday sessions he participated in last year. He recalls one session where a NMSI instructor helped him learn important physics concepts that his class was unable to get to. He said that for him that extra help made the difference between success and failure.

“They really helped me understand the physics on the AP physics exam,” he said.

Follow Charles Lussier on Twitter, @Charles_Lussier.