The Proviso Math and Science Academy (PMSA) seems to have experienced a sizeable increase in interest from area students, as over 100 more students have applied to attend the school this year than last.

According to Director of Teaching and Learning Richard Bryant, about 440 students have applied to join next year’s freshman class, compared to the 327 who applied for this year’s inaugural class. About 470 students came to PMSA to take the Naglieri Non Verbal Ability exams which are required for admission to the school, compared to 411 last year.

“We’re delighted that there’s that level of interest,” said Bryant. “If we could have that percentage of increase every year…that’s incredible.”

Though applications had to be postmarked by Sunday, Jan. 15, Bryant said the school has experienced a last minute surge in applicants, with applications still arriving as late as Friday. Bryant said he hopes to ensure continued growth of the school’s applicant pool in future years by opening up the school’s facilities for programs and collaborations involving local elementary and middle schools.

Despite the overall spike, interest among Forest Park students has remained relatively steady, with just over 27 percent of Forest Park Middle School eighth graders applying both years.

This year, 24 of the 88 eighth graders enrolled in the Middle School applied for admission to PMSA, while last year the number was 32 out of 117, according to Middle School principal Karen Bukowski. There are 18 Forest Parkers among the 123 students in the school’s current freshman class.

Bukowski said that the majority of Middle School students whose academic performance gives them a legitimate chance of making it into the competitive new magnet school seem to show interest in applying.

“I certainly wouldn’t think there would be any less interest (than last year),” said Forest Park School District Superintendent Randy Tinder. “They seem to be successful, and they have a great facility.”

Once applications are received, according to Bryant, the review process includes three phases. First, a group of 27 “readers” review the applications, essays and letters of recommendation, and rate the applicants on a scale of 1 to 4 in numerous categories.

Once each reader has finished going through their stack of applications, the group meets to discuss their ratings and reach a consensus. Their work is then presented to the school’s admissions council, which makes the final calls regarding who gets in.

The school, according to Bryant, practices a “blinded” application process, meaning that all names and identifying information are removed from applications before they are reviewed.

Though admissions decisions are entirely merit based, the school has so far managed to achieve impressive ethnic diversity. This year’s freshman class, Bryant said at a recent meeting of the school’s Parent Student Teacher Association (PTSA), is 40 percent black, 27 percent Latino, 18 percent white, and 8 percent Asian.

“How many places in the US do you know that have the population of this school that are here for the purpose of this school?” he asked the group.

Proviso East High School, according to its 2005 Illinois School Report Card, is 72.8 percent black, 24 percent Latino, 2.1 percent white and .4 percent Asian, while Forest Park Middle School is 50.9 percent black, 29.4 percent white, 11 percent Latino and 2.5 percent Asian.

According to Bryant, this diversity is ensured by the use of the Naglieri exams. “There has been a great deal written about cultural biases because (standardized tests are) often verbal in nature. We intentionally chose the Naglieri because it’s entirely non verbal,” he said.

Results from the Naglieri exams are considered along with the various standardized tests routinely administered in eighth grade classrooms such as the Terra Nova and Iowa exams.

Decisions on admission will be mailed out to applicants on Feb. 14.

PMSA is located at 8601 W. Roosevelt Rd. in Forest Park.