On a recent Thursday after school at Bryan Station High School, students gathered in teacher Shatha Shakir’s classroom to eat her homemade spaghetti.
Shakir rewarded them with the dish because the students, who generally were part of racial, ethnic or economic minority groups, had worked for weeks in an after-school program aimed at raising their scores on the ACT test scheduled for the following Saturday.
The ACT is an admissions test, measuring what students learn in high school to determine whether they are academically ready for college. It is part of the state’s assessment system that measures how schools perform. ACT scores are one of the measures used to determine college readiness.
Shakir started a project in the fall aimed in part at helping minority students improve their ACT scores. As part of her project, English teacher Eric Neely and math teacher Shelli Warburton met with about 25 students for 90 minutes twice each week to work on skills, including how to take tests.
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The students either wanted to meet a benchmark score or raise an ACT score.
“Several of these students didn’t have any motivation ... to take the test” prior to the program, Shakir said. She started the program because she was working on a master’s degree in school improvement and wanted to concentrate on students at risk of falling into the achievement gap.
“I selected several seniors who didn't have interest in college and career after high school graduation. I took them for a college visit to motivate them and I contacted their parents as well.”
Students liked that she prepared food for the first session, so she decided to prepare spaghetti for the final session. Shakir said she will continue to work with seniors and with several juniors on college visits and test strategies. Shakir said while the program started out aimed at students that could be included in the achievement gap, as word spread higher achieving students joined in.
“We've gotten a lot of tips and a lot of tricks for the ACT and a lot of strategies for how to manage your time and how not to run out of time on sections of the test,” said Elizabeth Hoffman, 16, a junior who wants to one day work in coding and computer software.
Ryan Jackson, also a junior, wants to study nursing at the University of Kentucky or the University of Louisville.
Ryan said she entered the after-school program so “I can do good on the ACT and get into college.”