Practice ACT gives students opportunity for ‘real time’ practice

The numbers are in and the advantage is clear:  Mexico High School students who take the ACT national college readiness test more than once almost always raise their scores.
In the last school year, there were  83 students who took the ACT more than once. Of these, 74 raised their scores 1-11 points. That nearly 90 percent improvement is noteworthy, according to Philip Neely, senior counselor.
A perfect score on the ACT is 36.The state average score is 21.6. The MHS average score is 19.4. However, at MHS all junior and senior students are encouraged to take the test, while at many other schools only college-bound students take the ACT.
On Tuesday, all MHS seniors took a "practice" ACT in a real-time testing situation. The students took the timed test, then had lunch while Neely ran their score sheets through a SCANTRON. After lunch, the seniors were given their results, and figured their own scores. The counselors then were available to answer questions from the students.    
"Mexico High School is one of the few schools that provide this level of preparation to our students," Neely said. "I have had conversation with fellow educators, and I think some schools are looking into doing this in the future."
The SCANTRON machine generates quick reports which are provided to students that contain a test item-analysis for every question.
"A real ACT does not provide these kinds of specific results for each question," Principal Terry Robinson said. "The item-analysis allows students to see exactly what they have missed the same day."
The school district also pays for students to take the ACT, once during their junior year and once during their senior year. The "free" ACT for seniors is Dec. 12.
"Getting students exposed to the ACT by removing some test anxiety is an important goal of our program," Neely said. "Also, our sophomores take the PLAN test and the ninth graders take the Explore test, which gives them further experience with national readiness tests."
The ACT is an indication of the extent to which students are prepared for college-level work. The ACT consists of curriculum-based tests of educational development in English, mathematics, reading and science designed to measure the skills needed for success in the first year of college.
"The ACT determines scholarship and admission of students to many universities," Robinson said. "It is a measure of college and career readiness. While many students do very well on the ACT, many do not. We want students to realize the importance of this test and how it figures into their future opportunities."
Robinson said the MHS faculty also uses the tests to assess progress as a school in preparing students. "I'm proud of the work our counseling team, our teachers and our former assistant principal Deb Haag did to start this effort in 2010," he said. "Each year we've worked to improve the data and feedback we give to students."
The ACT test scores also are higher for students who take what is termed "Value Added" mathematics and science classes. For example, students who have taken a minimum of Algebra I, Algebra II, Geometry,Trigonometry and Calculus scored 24.3 on the ACT (state average: 24.1). Students at MHS who have taken Biology and Chemistry in combination with Physics scored 27.o, while the state average for students taking the same courses is 23.2.
 "Many students overlook opportunities. For example, MHS offers nearly a full freshman year of college credit classes. The HCC has classes leading to meaningful certification in some programs," Robinson said. " Mexico should be proud of the resources we have for our students."