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By JULIE BALL HAMBRICK
The Trimble Banner
The results are in -- and this fall Trimble County High School seniors can give themselves a well-deserved pat on the back. ACT (American College Testing) scores for 2011/2012 jumped from 17.3 in recent years to 20.8, which puts Trimble County at 21st out of 229 participating schools statewide this year.
The numbers reflect the 2011/2012 class of juniors, who are now seniors. The rankings reflect performances of Kentucky public schools and a few urban magnate schools. All juniors now take the ACT, thanks to a 2009 Kentucky State Senate bill, which called for a new statewide accountability model.
Principal Rachael Adams attributes the gains to a “laser-like focus” by teachers, as well as students. “In order to have gains like this, we must stress the importance of how these scores relate to college performance.”
Many Kentucky colleges and universities use ACT scores to guide admissions decisions. Scores help state schools place students in appropriate college courses. Along with high school grade point averages, ACT scores also help determine the amount of money high school graduates may receive through the Kentucky Educational Excellence Scholarship program.
Aside from the students’ hard work, Principal Adams also credits the gains to the high school’s “intelligent, competent, and caring” teachers. “Because our school is small, our teachers must take on so many roles,” she explains.
Principal Adams explains that students combined hard work with a brand-new mindset: “Everything we do is tied to ACT achievements.” In the classroom, teachers guide the students through practice questions to help them become more comfortable with the test format. In previous years, TCHS also relied on ePrep to help students prepare for the test. This year, students will use a study system provided by ACT.
Some parents may fear extra time spent on ACT preparation reduces students’ focus on their courses. However, Principal Adams says test preparation has been proven to enhance other learning.
“And in reality, it’s not about ‘the test’,” says Adams. “It’s about how well we’re preparing our students for life after high school.”
Now, ACT scores are only one piece of a larger state accountability system. Thanks to passage of a 2009 Senate bill, Kentucky rolled out a new assessment and accountability system during the most recent school year. The Kentucky School Testing System was designed to improve instruction and Kentucky students’ learning.
College and career readiness for all students anchors the new model. Like previous systems, KSTS rates school performance through student outcomes in math, reading, and science. However, this next-generation model looks more closely at overall preparation, including growth measures, emphasis on college and career readiness, high school graduation rates, and student achievement in writing and social studies.
ACT, Inc. developed college readiness benchmarks in English, mathematics, science and reading. To hit these benchmarks, students must score 18 points or higher on the ACT English test, 22 or higher in math, 21 or higher in reading, and 24 or higher in science. ACT Inc.’s guidelines reveal students who reach these benchmark scores have a 50-percent chance of getting a grade of B or higher, or a 75 percent chance of getting a C or higher, in first-year college courses in the same subjects. Last year, only 16 percent of Kentucky graduates reached the benchmark in all four areas.
According to the national results, 57 percent of Kentucky’s 2011 grads achieved a benchmark score in English, up from 55 percent last year. Some 43 percent hit the reading benchmark, up from 40 percent last year. However, the percentages of Kentucky scholars making benchmarks in math and science remained the same as the previous year: 28 percent and 21 percent respectively.
How will Trimble students continue their positive momentum? Principal Adams cites community support as an important part of future success. “We really need our community to pull together to keep our kids in school,” she says. “High dropout rates create a cycle of poverty, which affects our whole community.
“To prevent a high dropout rate, our students need an environment that supports the value of high school education. And students who may be especially vulnerable to drop out need an adult in their lives who supports and values a high school education.”