Columbus East junior Savannah Tunny will take the ACT college entrance exam soon because she wants the practice before taking it as a senior, when it matters most.
Her goal is to be accepted into the college of her choice.
Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. is trying to encourage more students like Tunny in Grades 8-11 to prepare for college.
It is paying nearly $60,000 to cover the costs for the ACT and two other college-readiness exams. That’s nearly twice as much as the district set aside last year when it first funded such tests.
The district budgeted $58,625 this school year for the following tests, to be conducted April 23 at local schools:
EXPLORE focuses on helping high school students plan their coursework, and PLAN focuses on preparing them for college, according to the Indiana Department of Education.
All three measure skills in the broad categories of English, math, reading and science, said Bill Jensen, the school system’s director of secondary education.
EXPLORE typically costs $8, PLAN $10.25 and ACT $35, Jensen said. Seniors take the ACT at their own expense.
Margaret Tunny, Savannah Tunny’s mother, said not having to pay for the test is important when every dollar counts.
“It’s not just the cost of the tests that get in the way of students taking them. It’s the inconvenience,” Jensen said. “By offering them during school, you don’t have to worry about transportation and getting to the testing sites on your own.”
He said district officials hope to maximize student participation, gain a better idea of where students stand academically and help more students get into college. He said that would help the Community Education Coalition meet its goal to raise the local 80 percent high school graduation rate to 100 percent by 2017 and double the percentage of adults in the county who have two- and four-year college degrees from 30 percent to 60 percent.
Jensen added, however, that the education coalition’s goal was not a motivating factor for the school district to pay for optional tests.
The school system gathered some good information about its students when it first offered the ACT free to juniors during the 2011-2012 school year, Jensen said. Science scores were comparatively weak, and the school system adjusted its approach to help students.
He said district officials decided not to pay for students to take the SAT exam, because that test is not as strong of an indicator of college readiness and is not as good at measuring student improvement. He said students take that optional test on their own time Saturdays through the school year and pay $35 each time.
Samantha Harpring, testing coordinator for the school corporation, said most colleges look at students’ ACT scores to help determine whether to admit them.
That’s one of the reasons the corporation has committed funds for the testing.
BCSC last year paid $35,000 for all of its juniors to take the ACT and for eighth-graders in the two middle schools’ career and technical education classes to take EXPLORE.
Last year’s ACT participation rate of about 95 percent showed that paying student fees is a great way to get them to participate, Jensen said. That test-taking rate is more than twice the normal 40 to 45 percent who took the ACT previously, he added.
“It’s never 100 percent because there’s certain kids like ESL (English as a second language) students who are new to the schools,” Jensen said. “We won’t put them through this.”
Because last year’s plan succeeded in getting more students to take the ACT, the district expanded testing to other grade levels and budgeted money to cover all students eligible to take those tests.
Doug Moore, director of guidance for Columbus East High School, said about 45 percent of his students took the ACT in 2011, when students were responsible for payment, compared to about 55 percent for the SAT. He said participation in PLAN has ranged from 15 to 60 percent, with the higher percentage coming when the state has kicked in funds to help offset costs.
Students and their parents said they appreciate the district paying for tests that have such a practical application.
Margaret Tunny said her daughter is preparing by reading a book about how to prepare for the ACT and with practice questions that she might see on the test.
Andrea Tertocha, a junior at East, said she wouldn’t have taken the ACT on her own in February if she had known the district was going to give it for free for the second year in a row. But she said she plans to take the test multiple times anyway, so her scores might improve each time.
Tertocha said she wants to attend Taylor University, a Christian school in Upland, where she would have double major in missions and psychology and minor in Spanish language.
Emi Hammond and Neeraj Pandita, both eighth-graders at Central Middle School, said getting to take EXPLORE for free plays into their plans to eventually take the ACT and go to college.
Hammond said that, although she doesn’t know what career to pursue, she wants to attend Brigham Young University, where her parents attended.
She recommended that everyone should take the EXPLORE test if they have the chance.
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