Every high school student in Tennessee is required totake the ACT. Tennessee is one of just a handful of states with this requirement and while that is not always good for our public image – it perhaps puts statewide test scores below other states where only the best and brightest take the test – it is very good for our students. Some students who might not otherwise take the test are required to, giving them an additional college credential or even a HOPE scholarship.
We want all our high school students to score a bare minimum 21 on the ACT. Of course, we prepare them to reach much higher than that, but we set the minimum at 21 because that is when scholarships and financial aid to state schools are within reach. With a 21, many students can afford college.
This year’s ACT results for our district show we still have a long way to go, but we’re making progress. In fact, we’ve advanced our scores at a faster rate than the rest of the state.
But it’s still not good enough. We need better results in a shorter amount of time. We need results like the ones at Hillwood High School.
In the short time since Hillwood principal Dr. Steve Chauncy started his ACT Now program, the percentage of his students scoring 21 or higher has risen nearly 10%. When you consider statewide gains are measured in tenths of a percent, that is a huge jump.
How did Hillwood do it? And how will Dr. Chauncy and the Hillwood team spread similar results district-wide?
- Practice, practice, practice
Before students take the actual ACT in their junior year, they sit for up to six practice tests – one as freshmen, the PLAN test, two practice assessments as sophomores, and two as juniors. Those tests are as real as they come, often actual ACT exams from previous years given through a program called Learning Express. By the time they sit for the real thing, they know exactly what to expect.
- Targeted instruction
Rather than teaching students how to take a test, data from these practice tests is used for targeted instruction in the classroom. Areas of need are identified for individual students, and lessons can be are tailored to those needs. That starts right away. Freshmen come into Hillwood carrying data from the EXPLORE test taken in middle school. That data is used to start building ACT college skills in freshmen seminar classes.
- Critical Thinking Classes
All Hillwood sophomores take a Critical Thinking and Imaginative Writing course where they learn how to apply their knowledge to problem solving and real world scenarios. That helps work through tough questions like those on the ACT and the even tougher questions students will later address in college and in their careers.
- Adaptable Solutions for All Schools
This program has been shared across the district to all zoned high schools. But not every high school is the same, so it is can be easily molded to fit a particular school’s needs, resources, and abilities. As schools find improvements, they will be incorporated into the ACT Now program so the district is in a cycle of continuous improvement.
Development for this program is far from over. We are going even deeper into the data, looking at individual questions on practice tests to identify the academic support students need and we are providing afterschool tutoring for juniors with support from HCA.
The program began at Hillwood in the fall of 2010 and is spreading so all our high schools see rapid growth and all students are college ready and eligible for scholarship dollars.