Danville board covers cost of sophomore ACT

Published 10:10 am Saturday, November 25, 2017

Hoping to get Danville High School sophomores to buy in to the ACT, the Danville Board of Education agreed to cover the cost of the students’ tests for the spring.

“Our goal is to really be proactive in this. We want them to practice, we want them to be ready,” said Kathy Merryman, a member of the high school site-based decision-making council. “Most kids will only take the ACT one time their junior year.”

Merryman said they want to encourage students to take it their sophomore year, too. That way, the students get more comfortable with the test and have baseline data for their next test.

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“We will have a better chance to get them ready and have them college and career ready,” she said. “They’ll have a better exposure to the test, that test is overwhelming. If you walk in the first time it can be the scariest thing in the world … We want kids to have the opportunity to take it a year ahead of time.”

The state currently covers the cost of juniors taking the ACT, which could change next year, Superintendent Keith Look told the board. Juniors take the test during the school day.

Sophomores would be asked to take the test on a Saturday. Merryman said the students would be given their choice between two dates in spring 2018.

“We would register them the best we can at school and have it paid for immediately,” Merryman said. The plan would be to incentivize students to register and then to take the test. “We need kids to buy into it. That’s our goal, to get kids to buy into what this means for their future.”

During an earlier presentation to the board, responding to testing score data released earlier in the semester, Danville High School Principal Haley Ralston explained how important the ACT scores were.

“A concern for me and our staff is that ACT scores are somewhat stagnant. They’re just kind of hovering, they’re not going up, not going down, they’re just kind of right there,” Ralston said. “We’ve tried to do a number of things … We tried to do ACT prep after school, but it’s very hard, it’s hard to find people.”

Ralston explained that teachers who work with the ACT, or all junior teachers, are not allowed to do ACT prep after school. It was offered in the past, but those teachers are no longer able to do it. Currently, the school is working with students from Centre to host ACT workshops after school.

“It did work well last year,” Ralston said. “We’re still trying to find people to do that because we did have some students to stay last year.”

She said the board helped purchase a program called College Equipped Readiness Tool (CERT) for the school, which was a “big change,” and will help with ACT preparation. Sophomores and juniors were to participate in that on Tuesday.

“That will give us and students diagnostics back. It will not only let us know, but it will help to prepare the students,” she said. “I’m excited about that.”

One of the changes that Senate Bill 1 brought about was that ACT now considered the college readiness measure, explained  Look.

“For our students, the ACT becomes all or nothing, and that’s true of every high school in Kentucky,” said Look.

“Not that we haven’t said ACT matters before, but this year … ACT matters. It really matters,” Ralston said.

There were formerly tests that led up to the ACT, giving students a base, explained Merryman. Those tests no longer exist. That’s why it’s important to have students take the test more than once.

Having that baseline is important, she said. Parent and SBDM member Maurice Bell agreed.

“We need kids to take it at an earlier age, to be prepared … It’s overwhelming to just get one chance. The more you take it, the better it is,” he said. Some kids don’t realize how important it is, while “a lot of kids don’t take it for financial reasons.”

Ralston said they are not asking the district to prepay every student, just the students who are willing to come through the school to register. She said they also plan to have a parent night, to show parents examples of the test and to get them to help their child register.

“We’ve got to have the parents buy in,” said Board member Troy McCowan. “We have to have everyone buy in.”

A parent himself, McCowan said he helped his children prepare in the past by taking sample tests online, and that he wished he had been able to take the ACT more than one time.

Merryman agreed and said she felt if people saw the value the school and district paid to the ACT, then students and parents would see the value in it.

For sophomores to take the test, the district will have to pay about $6,000, or $46 per 130 students.

Board member Lori Finke asked district finance officer Paul Dean if there was money in the budget for the request.

“Something important like this, we would be able to make do,” Dean said.

Ralston said they would create a team to coach the kids into signing up.

“We’re not going to do it for them, because they have to learn to advocate for themselves,” she said. Another option might be to pull in the school’s athletic coaches, to encourage students to sign up.

Look said the teams would be important to help the students cope with potentially not doing well — most sophomores won’t have had the math that shows up on the ACT.

“We’re sitting kids up to run into a time they might not feel good,” he said, but said the teams would encourage the students. “It’s a building block to move forward.”

Board member Lori Finke asked how early students can take it — Ralston said they can take it as early as they choose.