Of all the things high school juniors are thinking about, the ACT might not be at the forefront.
Educators at Madison Central High School, however, are making sure their 411 juniors are each setting ACT goals and are rewarded when they meet them.
At the suggestion of assistant principal Laura Dedic, she, principal Elmer Thomas and math teacher Katie Ellis began interviewing juniors last year to talk about life after high school.
They discussed college and career possibilities and set personal goals for the ACT, a standardized test used nationwide in determining college admissions. Every junior in the state will take the ACT on March 5.
Thursday, Dedic sat down with Mark Ciocca, a 17-year-old at Central who already took the ACT as a sophomore and scored 30 out of a possible 36.
Although March 5 will be the first time many juniors will take the ACT, it will not be the students’ first encounter with an ACT-style test.
Madison County students take the EXPLORE test in the eighth grade and then PLAN test in 10th grade. In the past, both were taken to prepare for the ACT. Now they are a part of the state’s new assessment and accountability system, Unbridled Learning.
The new system considers students to be college- and career-ready if they meet certain benchmarks on the ACT-series of tests. The state assessment focuses on three of the tests four areas: English, math and reading.
But ACT preparation begins even before high school.
A study called “The Forgotten Middle” revealed if students leave middle school not meeting benchmarks on EXPLORE, there is a 65 percent chance they never meet those benchmarks on the ACT, Thomas said.
So, EXPLORE results from eighth-grade are used to determine course placement for entering freshman, he said.
“As a freshman next year, especially those who are under benchmark, we start laying out their plan for four years at Madison Central, and beyond,” the principal said.
The school district pays for students to take EXPLORE a second time as freshmen. If students are under benchmark, they are placed in college- and career-readiness courses to “give them the skills they need to lift them up to be college ready,” Thomas said.
Also, some students, such as those with individual learning plans, are shown avenues to become career-ready.
“We say, ‘If you want to be a doctor, these are some universities that will be good for you. If you want to be a tattoo artist, this is the avenue you need to pursue as well,’” he said.
The planning doesn’t stop there.
After juniors take the ACT, those who are still not meeting benchmarks must take transition courses to prepare them for college. This prevents students from taking college developmental courses, which they must pay for but do not go toward earning a degree.
“If they’re not there yet, we work all year long to get them there,” Thomas said.
When Thomas came to Central three years ago, school administrators began talking about a single focus for the school.
“The natural thing that came out was the ACT,” he said, which both students and parents say is important to them and what Randy Peffer, the district’s chief academic officer, called “the gatekeeper to college admittance.”
All Kentucky colleges look at the ACT, Thomas said.
A face-to-face chat about the future
Thomas, Ellis and Dedic began interviewing students at the beginning of February and will have met with every junior before March 5.
During Dedic’s interview with Mark Ciocca, they both filled out the “MCHS ACT rewards program” sheet on which is written: “It is to be placed on your fridge at home as a reminder when you take a break from your computer and go to get that evening snack. What are you doing to get ready for the ACT in March?”
“That’s a pretty fun thing to ask them,” Thomas said. “When is the last time you put something on your refrigerator for your parents to see?”
Dedic went over Ciocca’s scores in each area of the PLAN test to predict what he would score on the ACT he will take in March.
The highest possible score on PLAN is 32, but the highest score on the ACT is 36.
The composite PLAN score a 10th-grader must earn to be considered “college- and career-ready” is 18. Ciocca scored a 26.
“Our goal is to push you even higher,” Dedic told him.
“What are you doing outside of school to prepare for the ACT?” she asked.
Ciocca admitted he had not been doing much preparation outside of school. Dedic suggested he visit www.number2.com, a free online tutorial for the ACT where he can go over test areas he wanted to improve.
“I can see me doing that,” he replied.
The two then discussed the courses Ciocca was taking. He told her he had just completed a practice ACT in one of his classes and he got a score of 34 in English.
“Do you want to aim for that 34 again? Do you think you can replicate that?” Dedic asked. “We can slide down to a 33 maybe, but that would be as low as I would go.”
“I don’t want to go too low, but I would be trepidatious to go too high,” he said.
Dedic and Ciocca did this sort of haggling through each component of the ACT until they set all of his personal goals.
Ciocca eventually decided he must achieve at least a composite score of 32 to beat his older brother, William.
“I so want to beat him,” he said.
If students meet their personal goals next year, they will be rewarded with the opportunity to leave school and eat lunch at a restaurant along the Robert R. Martin Bypass.
Students who meet the school goal of 21 (which is the ACT composite benchmark) will get a break from class for an ice cream social.
Student who meet all four ACT benchmarks will qualify for “preferred parking in the B lot, which is the closest parking we have,” Dedic said. The ACT benchmark for English is 18, math is 22, reading is 21, science is 24 and composite is 21.
Dedic pointed out how Ciocca would be awarded $500 in state KEES scholarships a semester for earning a score of 28 or above. She talked about the possible income he can earn, based on educational attainment.
They also went over the ACT scores required to attend several Kentucky universities and colleges.
Many students are surprised to discover a 24 is required to attend the University of Louisville and only a 21 to attend the University of Kentucky, Thomas said. At Eastern Kentucky University, an applicant must score at least an 18.
This is the type of conversation that reinforces the importance of the ACT and how it connects to life after high school, the principal said, especially for students who might not always be thinking that far ahead.
“Really, I just don’t think about the future all that much," said Ciocca, "but I want to.”
Crystal Wylie can be reached at email@example.com
or 623-1669, Ext. 6696.
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