Columbia schools superintendent credits prep programs for ACT scores

Thursday, September 6, 2012 | 6:55 p.m. CDT; updated 7:09 p.m. CDT, Thursday, September 6, 2012

COLUMBIA — Superintendent Chris Belcher sees the 2012 ACT results for Columbia Public Schools as a success, even though there was a slight decrease in scores.

This year, the district's average composite score was 23.4, while in 2011 it was 23.8; the highest it can be is 36.

"We are simply replicating the good solid program we use, and what we get is normal fluctuations," Belcher said. "Any time you increase the population taking the test, there’s a likelihood that you’ll see decreases because you’re pushing up the kids that weren’t going to take it."

In 2012, 873 students in the district took the ACT, a number that’s been increasing at least since 2008 when 850 students were tested. Belcher said the increase in district students taking the test can be attributed in part to the different programs in place at Rock Bridge and Hickman high schools.

The high schools have ACT preparation on Saturdays, summer courses for ACT prep and counselors who encourage students to take the test.

Gwen Struchtemeyer, a library media specialist at Rock Bridge, is one of the teachers who work with students at Rock Bridge during what they call "Super Saturdays." The students take a practice ACT exam in the morning and then score their exams and review in the afternoon. This year's "Super Saturday" for Rock Bridge will be Oct. 6, and Hickman's will be Oct. 13. 

In late fall, there will be four section-specific review sessions for an hour after school to help students prepare for the Dec. 8 test. Rock Bridge's fall session dates are as follows: Nov. 28, reading; Nov. 29, math; Dec. 5, English; and Dec. 6, science.

Hickman's fall session dates start Nov. 15 with the students taking a second practice test; on Nov. 27, they'll tackle reading and writing; Nov. 29, math; and Dec. 4, science.

Betsy Jones, director of guidance at Rock Bridge, said teachers well-versed in the ACT put in a lot of effort to make students feel prepared.

"When the students see that they’re prepared, it helps their confidence," Jones said. 

If any student has a problem paying for the ACT, which costs $50.50 per test with an additional writing section and $35 without, Jones can help them get an ACT fee waiver form. Students who qualify include those eligible for free and reduced lunch, wards of the state and those receiving public assistance in one form or another.

"Last year at Rock Bridge, I initially received 80 waivers and the students used all those, so I got another delivery," Jones said. "By the end of the year, roughly 130 waivers were used."

Struchtemeyer has seen firsthand how important it is for everyone to get the chance to take the ACT.

"Many of these students are the first person in their family to go to college, and it’s completely new for them," Struchtemeyer said. "It’s a test that can change their lives."

Supervising editor is Elizabeth Brixey.

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