Renewed emphasis on ACT in Purdy

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Individualized training added to boot camp strategy

In a dramatic shift, Purdy High School leaders launched a new effort to boost ACT college entrance exam scores by students, using strategies new to the district designed to position graduates for better outcomes.

“As a whole, there hasn’t been a big emphasis on ACT in Purdy,” said Principal Derek Banwart. “We’re getting that in the front of kids’ minds, to use practice as a jumping off point.”

The new emphasis began last school year. A math and science teacher and a reading and English teacher went to a training session on how to teach students how to take the ACT test. Those teachers returned to Purdy and offered training sessions on four consecutive Saturdays to students, open to juniors and seniors. The school district agreed to cover test costs to students who attended all four prep sessions.

Because of state procedures, the district only receives scores back for seniors taking the test. Banwart said Purdy seniors saw their scores rise “a couple tenths of a point.” However, statewide scores declined last year, resulting in a better comparative showing for Purdy.

“The kids loved it,” Banwart said. “Overall they felt knowing the strategies just helped them.”

For example, on the science test there are four sections, each one involving a section reading a graph. Trainers advised the answers to two of the six questions came from simply studying the graph. They advised answering those first. If a student marked the same answer on all the remaining questions, the answer was likely to be correct 25 percent of the time, thus offering a way to approach an unknown subject.

“Rely on your knowledge, and if you don’t know, use statistics to be on your side,” Banwart summarized.

This year, Purdy school leaders chose to build on last year’s model. Teacher Jennifer Cornelius took the lead. Under her direction, all freshmen, sophomores and juniors took an ACT test this fall, establishing baseline scores and hopefully whetting students’ appetite for achieving on the test. The Saturday boot camp will again be offered in February, and the district will again pay test costs for students who attend all sessions.

Math teacher Tabitha Farris went to Neosho to receive the same test training, while in October Cornelius went to Columbia for the training her colleagues received last year. Banwart said both returned “fired up,” full of ideas from others they saw at the training.

“We had a couple boot camp meetings,” he continued. “They shared ideas on how to break kids out, have smaller group training while others worked on different subjects. They wanted to give individualized training — something they didn’t do last year — to get kids scores where they would want them.”

In addition, teachers have begun using ACT-style questions in the classrooms.

“Teachers are saying, ‘If that’s the test we have to answer to, let’s be like that test,’” Banwart said.

All students will take ACT tests next month. The boot camp in February will focus students on the test approach and engage them in mastering the challenge. On April 13, Purdy will serve as a regional location for giving the ACT, for which students will register in March, keeping the goal of performing well on the test in the forefront of students’ thinking.

“The faculty has had conversations about the baseline tests,” Banwart said. “They’re going to use the practice test and determine, ‘Here is what we’ve got; here is where we want to be. How do we get there?’

“There’s been some frustration among the faculty that our ACT scores haven’t been better. With this approach, they’ve said, ‘It seems like here’s some low hanging fruit we can grab and get some results.’ That’s our hope.”

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: