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ACT Prep course pays off for PMHS juniors

Improved ACT scores were presented at the Picayune School Board meeting on Tuesday, thanks to a new ACT readiness course now offered to Picayune juniors.

The ACT college readiness assessment is a curriculum and standards based educational and planning tool that assesses students' academic readiness for college. Not only is the ACT required to enter college, Mississippi started administering the test to all Juniors during the 2014-2015 school year.

Since making the ACT a requirement, high schools, like Picayune, across the state experienced a dip in scores. Many schools started implementing ACT Prep Courses to better prepare their Juniors for the test.

“We realized how important it was for our students to do well and succeed when taking the ACT, unfortunately prior to this ACT curricula many of our students didn’t know much about the test at all,” Science and Reading instructor, Wendy Bracey said. “They would arrive to take the test and just go in blind, many didn’t even know it was timed. So we quickly realized that maybe if we had an ACT class, we could give them the tools they need to succeed on this test.”

Bracey went on to explain that she and the other teaches involved in the course’s inception; Monica Strain for Math and Kaye Smith for English, created a curricula with several goals in mind to better assist their students. These goals were heavily implemented through out the curricula and included familiarizing students with the test, teaching students key test taking strategies, making sure students had critical thinking skills, and most importantly building the students confidence and encouraging them through out the process.

“We realize that if students are scared to death to take a test it doesn’t matter what they know they will not succeed,” Bracey said. “Based upon our data we feel that we have met these goals and made a difference in these students’ lives.”

The class is divided in three rounds, English, Mathematics, and Reading/Science, rotating in six week intervals during the first semester of the school year. The students were given a Mastery Prep test at the beginning of the course and were encouraged to take the December ACT test, since the ACT test given by the State isn’t until February 27 (over two months after students complete the course).

Monica Strain, the Mathematics teacher for the program, told the board that after receiving the report from the mastery prep practice test, she knew they had a lot of work to do.

“We also looked at those scores and thought about what we really needed to spend time on,” Strain said. “The report shows that pacing was something we really needed to spend time on. Time management wasn’t that bad but pacing received one out of five stars.”

Strain went on to explain that, based on the scores of the December ACT test, pacing is one of the areas that has drastically improved because of the strategies and practices taught in the course.

The report also shows that the 73 students who took the course and took the test in December saw an average score increase of about two points. Some students even saw their scores increase by eight points or more.

“I had a student who came to me and said ‘Ms.Strain I made a 17 on my math portion of the ACT the last time I took it but look at this I made a 29 this time and the only thing different is the strategies you taught us,’ so that really sparked my interest,” Strain said about getting involved with the course. “And now I am very much invested because my son is a junior and if his score improves enough to get full tuition to (Pearl River Community College), that’s money in my pocket.”

Besides college tuition, the course itself is potentially a savings for all parents of Picayune High School students. The Education Industry Association estimates that nearly $7 billion is spent annually on supplemental instruction nationwide by parents looking to help their children succeed in school and prepare for important college entrance exams like the ACT.

This course has now provided a way for students to get the help they need as part of their junior year course load, without forcing parents to pay for external help.

The teachers involved in the new program wanted to extend their gratitude to their administrators and the board for their support in getting the program off the ground, and giving them the tools they needed to help their students succeed.

“As with anything new we didn’t know what to expect, our students knew little to nothing about the ACT but we just got enthusiastic about it,” English instructor, Kaye Smith said. “We gathered as much positive energy as we could and we worked tother as a team. I think the students’ scores and the success it had speaks of that.”


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