High school juniors in Kentucky will take the ACT national college admissions test on March 9. The scores they get could help determine the colleges and universities they enter and the kind of scholarship money they receive.
Because the test is so important, Lexington's five public high schools are giving the students a leg up by offering extra instructional help and an online tutorial to help prepare for the exam.
The "ACT prep" effort started a few years ago but is shifting into high gear this year.
Each high school is doing something a little different, district officials say. But the overall effort is built around a commercially available online program produced by Triumph College Admissions, or TCA. Fayette County Public Schools purchased the program, which students may use at no cost.
It works like this: Fayette juniors took a practice ACT test last fall, each receiving a report showing areas of weakness. Now, students can log onto the TCA tutorial and review areas in which they need to improve. Because the program is online, students may review it as often as they want.
District officials say participation is growing, although some students might need a little encouragement.
"I was talking with a student in the hall a few days ago, and he said, 'I really don't want to do it,'" said Laura Donovan, an associate principal at Henry Clay High School. "I told him to think about the scholarship money that better scores can help you get and the fact that you can get into a much wider variety of colleges when you have scores that support your desires."
County schools officials say extra ACT preparation pays off.
Stephanie McDermott, Lafayette High School's administrative dean, said that every Lafayette student who participated in ACT prep last year saw improved scores. In some cases, students added 3 or 4 points to their cumulative ACT scores, she said.
That might sound like a modest gain, but it could mean the difference in a student getting a scholarship, McDermott said.
In addition to boosting academics, using the tutorial helps juniors get used to a test that takes about three hours to complete. To complement the online tutorial, many teachers also are taking time in their regular classes to review material covered by the ACT, district officials say.
Lafayette has been allowing juniors to come to school on Saturday mornings to do online ACT review in its computer lab. McDermott said that while students could do it at home, teachers think that "providing time away from cell phones, TVs and radio can help."
While the prep program basically is designed for juniors who plan to attend college after graduation, Henry Clay's Donovan said it's also useful for those who might not have college plans now.
"We want our students to have every possible tool for success, so we encourage everybody to work on it," she said. "Even if they aren't planning on college right after high school, they probably will need some additional education later on to have the kind of life they want."