ACT Workshop Boosts Scores

Teacher-led program focuses on specific parts of test

Wheaton High School has seen an upswing in its ACT scores in recent years, and the district credits the improvements to a workshop offered at the high school.

Lance Massey, Wheaton superintendent, said the high school students have been able to check their ACT scores recently, and many of the students are happy with the results.

“One of the things we started a few years ago is an ACT workshop,” Massey said. “It’s a three-day, intensive training workshop that our high school staff put on.”

According to Massey, every student who takes the ACT workshop has to take the ACT by the December deadline.

“What we have seen over the years is that the students that go through the ACT workshop are getting better ACT scores,” Massey said. “It’s one of those things where we spend a few district dollars for substitute teachers, so the high school teachers can have quality time with the students that are doing the ACT prep work.”

Massey said the school doesn’t have all the data yet, but the students get to pull those scores before the district does.

“We ask students to set goals for themselves, and that is something the ACT workshop helps them with,” Massey said. “It’s a really neat program that we as a small school can provide.”

According to Massey, high ACT scores helps students get into a higher scholarship bracket.

“The whole reason for the ACT is higher education,” Massey said. “It helps determine what schools students get accepted into and what scholarship bracket they are in.

“It’s really fun to watch the students set goals for themselves and achieve at the level they set their goal for, or higher.”

Massey said the high school principal watched students go up and down the halls discussing their ACT scores.

“I think when we can get the students excited and talking about academics, it is always a good thing,” Massey said.

Tyler Willis, Wheaton High School principal, said during the ACT workshop, teachers from each department for each subject that is on the ACT teach sessions on their specific subjects, and specifically how that subject is presented on the ACT.

“The teachers give the students different testing strategies that have been found to increase scores on the ACT,” Willis said. “They do that for two days, then on the third day, the students take a practice test that is scored by the teachers.”

According to Willis, the most beneficial thing is when the students have their scores, the students visit with each teacher individually.

“The students go to each teacher, and they look at the questions they did well on and the ones they didn’t do well on,” Willis said. “The teachers give the students feedback on things to do to improve their scores.”

Willis said the ACT workshop has been proven over the years to dramatically increase scores.

“It’s something I am really impressed by and thankful for,” Willis said. “It really directly impacts the students, and it gives them opportunities they didn’t have before.”

According to Willis, the school offers the ACT workshop to the students who are really focused on their scores and put in the hard work.

“Other districts try to do something similar for all their students,” Willis said. “While that is good, I don’t think it is as beneficial for the students who are really focused on the ACT.”

Jason Navarro, Wheaton High School social studies teacher, said the ACT workshop idea came from a former teacher who has retired and moved from the area.

“She kind of put everything in place for what became the ACT workshop,” Navarro said. “The first year we did it was 2009.”

Navarro said the workshop has been held every December since 2009.

“We try to take the stress out of the ACT by helping the students with all parts of the process,” Navarro said. “We help the students get registered, [offer] the ACT workshop, and on the actual ACT test day, the cafeteria makes a breakfast for the students, and we take them to the Crowder Campus to take the test.”

According to Navarro, the students are taken off-site to the Wheaton Southern Baptist Church to make it more of a special event for them.

“There are multiple ACT test dates, I think about five a year,” Navarro said. “We just do the workshop around the December test date, because it is about the last one that seniors can use to get admitted to college and get scholarships.”

Navarro said for a couple of years, the state of Missouri was testing every junior in every school, so all of those schools were trying to do a workshop with a whole class.

“What we do with the ACT workshop is voluntary,” Navarro said. “We actually have an application process, and what we want is for students to do this because they are committed, not just to get out of school for three days.”

According to Navarro, there isn’t a limit to how many time a student can take the ACT, and the school encourages the students to take it many times.

“We have students that have taken it five or six times,” Navarro said. “I think this helps students take ownership of their own academic success.”

Navarro said a big part of the hurdle is knowing what the students are trying to do.

“Students don’t always know what the goal is or what scores mean what,” Navarro said. “We really want them to understand what it’s going to take to get them where they want to go.”

According to Navarro, during the application process, the students are asked what college they want attend, and what their major is going to be.

“Then, we can start to pair those scores with their goals,” Navarro said.

Navarro said the process is an all school effort.

“We won an award once for this, and we took an all-staff picture,” Navarro said. “Everyone has a part in the process, and they are happy to do it.

“That is what I’m most proud of, is that as a group we can do these kinds of things.”

Navarro said the award that the school won was the Making Learning Come Alive Award, from the Southwest Center for Educational Excellence.

“After we got the award, we had schools coming in and watching us do the workshop to try to model it,” Navarro said.

In the lower grades, the district is preparing its students for the second Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA) test for the school year.

Massey said when students come back from Christmas break, they will be taking the NWEA.

“We administer that test three times a year,” Massey said. “Once at the beginning of the school year, once around Christmas break and again in April.”

Massey said the district gets a lot of benchmark data from the NWEA testing.

“I think the judgment call to test after Christmas break was really just because of events and programs that lead up to Christmas break,” Massey said. “Those test results aren’t required to be sent to the state, but we want the best data possible for our students.”

According to Massey, the NWEA testing helps prepare the students and staff for the state MAP testing in the spring.

“We feel that the NWEA testing is more valuable to us to help drive curriculum,” Massey said. “It gives us growth indicators, and it’s not just a one time snap shot like the MAP testing is.”