Students score above national average on college prep exam
by Emily Adams
Sylacauga’s eighth-graders are well on their way to success after scoring higher than the national average on a college preparatory exam.

Students at Nichols-Lawson Middle School scored 15.6 on the EXPLORE test, part one of the ACT assessment series now required by the state. The national average was 15.5 out of about 1.5 million students tested.

“We were so happy with the results,” said assessment coordinator Carol Martin. “We’re very proud of the students because we think they focused on the test and took it seriously. It shows they want to do their best and set goals for the future.”

Martin said teachers also deserve credit for adjusting their instruction to meet the demands of the assessment series, which consists of EXPLORE in eighth grade, PLAN in 10th grade and the ACT in 11th grade.

“We have given the EXPLORE test for several years, but this year it was such a big focus across the state,” Martin said. “Our teachers did a great job developing and delivering more rigorous lessons for students, because it really is a higher level of thinking that is required.”

The EXPLORE exam tests in the areas of math, science, reading and English. Sylacauga’s 190 students scored above the benchmark in English and reading with 15 and 15.3 (the benchmark scores are 13 and 15, respectively) and below in math and science. Sylacauga scored 14.7 in math and 16.8 in science where the benchmarks are 17 and 20.

“We’re looking forward to seeing this strength progress through the system,” Martin said. “This is just the beginning of this process, so these students will hopefully get stronger scores as they go through.”

A report from the State Department of Education will be released in January showing the results of every Alabama school. Martin said it will be an interesting look at how students may perform on the ACT down the line. Starting next school year, the Alabama High School Graduation Exam will be eliminated, and every 11th grade student will be required to take the ACT.

“We have always had strong ACT scores, but all 11th graders have never taken the exam before,” Martin said. “It has always been on a self-selected basis, so its going to be new and different for everyone. Our goal now is to prepare every single student for the ‘three C’s’ that we emphasize so much: college, career and community.”

A benefit of the EXPLORE and PLAN testing is that detailed results can predict how a student will perform on the ACT. The results also give career suggestions and tips for how to reach learning goals.

“They provide a lot of great information that students and parents need to take a close look at,” Martin said. “We also use that information to help students develop a six-year plan to carry them past high school. We plan what they need to do and how they can do it to get to where they need to be, so it’s a great tool to help students focus and set goals.”

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