Wednesday, February 1, 2012

With nearly all its seniors each year going on to college or trade school, Kuemper Catholic High School has found strong value in using ACT testing programs to make sure students find the right match.

Kuemper counselor Jeanne Spieler says that although it’s not required, 95 to 97 percent of Kuemper students take the ACT college-preparatory test each year.  

“I think that speaks well for the students and their parents because the kids are taking ownership more. It gives them good information,” Spieler observes.

In addition, Kuemper eighth-graders take the ACT Plan tests and sophomores take Explore tests to track their progress.

In recognition of Kuemper going above and beyond in use of the information ACT tests provide on students, the Iowa City-based testing company recently presented the school its 2010-11 Red Quill Award. Kuemper and Council Bluffs Lewis Central are the only two Iowa high schools to receive the award, and Kuemper is a first-time recipient.

A plaque sent to the school from ACT Midwest Region says the Red Quill is “in recognition of best practices in the use of assessments and data for the enhancement of curriculum and for the confirmed dedication to the students served.”

Both Spieler and a counselor for Lewis Central will receive official recognition at the ACT state convention on Wednesday, Feb. 29, at Iowa State University in Ames. At the convention, which draws 300 to 400 counselors, principals and superintendents, they will share ways they utilize ACT tests.

Spieler, who’s in her 13th year as counselor and previously was a physical-education teacher 27 years, says Kuemper has added various ways over the last few years to make the tests more beneficial to students, parents and the school.

Spieler meets with every senior and parents in exit conferences to review how students scored on the ACT and whether those scores indicate a good match with post-high school education and career plans.  

“The senior exit conference is based on helping students, seeing where they’re transitioning to after high school and whether it’s a good fit,” she says.  

ACT tests students in English, math, reading and science, and scores in those core areas provide college-readiness benchmarks.  

Spieler says she advises, “Be sensitive when registering for classes and when making college choices because you don’t want to set yourself up to fail by getting in with too heavy a load.”

The ACT “gets a good dialogue going with parents and students to see if there’s a good match there or not,” she says.

Besides the academic test, ACT also offers a component that matches students’ scores with possible career areas.  

If those possible career areas match students’ interest, Spieler says, “then it’s affirmation to students that they’re pursuing an area that has a good match.”

She notes that the dialogue on college-readiness and career-match results from research several years ago that showed approximately 38 percent of college freshmen don’t return to school the next year.

“Thirty-eight percent is pretty high. That’s a lot of kids,” Spieler comments. “So colleges and the ACT company sat down and went through a lot of curriculums to set readiness benchmarks.”

In examining the problem, a couple of conclusions emerged: many students were not academically prepared for college, and many hadn’t really decided on a study major so they figured why spend the money.

“ACT went from giving just scores on college readiness and worked on career education,” Spieler says. “That’s opened a good dialogue between schools and students and parents to see if they have a good match.”

Kuemper offers prep sessions for the ACT test, which is administered in April and June.

“The message then to students,” Spieler says, “is that this test is important as a college-entrance exam. And it’s important because from some schools it could yield scholarship money. So with the aid of our staff we provide ACT prep sessions in evenings to prepare students for taking the test.”

Before students approach the end of their high-school careers, Kuemper also makes strong use of ACT’s Plan and Explore tests for sophomores and eighth-graders, respectively.

Using the Plan test results, Spieler visits with sophomores and their parents about students’ future course schedules.

“Halfway through high school is kind of a critical juncture,” Spieler says. “They still have two years they can improve their core academic areas.”

The Explore test for eighth-graders gives them an early read on whether they’re on target in English, match, science and reading, and it also begins the process of examining college study and career interest.

Spieler compliments ACT, which provides testing nationwide: “I think ACT has really made an effort to find out what schools need, what parents want and what students need, and they’ve tried to adapt those score reports. The reliability of the test is there, and they have that wealth of information to share with students, parents, counselors and administrators. It’s a good tool to use.”

She says of the Red Quill Award, “ACT is a solid company that many educators work with and use their materials, and for them to acknowledge that we’re doing some good things here at Kuemper, I think that’s a compliment to students, families and administrators. It’s a nice sign we’re moving in the right direction in helping students make that transition from high school to post-secondary school.”

Kuemper principal Penny Miller comments, “The majority of Kuemper students are college-bound, and ACT scores play a big role in scholarship awards. We are very fortunate to have Mrs. Spieler in charge of our ACT testing. She works closely with teachers to provide help sessions for the students prior to testing. She then works with staff to interpret the test scores to see if changes need to be made in our curriculum to better prepare students. Mrs. Spieler attends workshops each year to stay current on the latest trends and information put out by the ACT corporation. The ACT test is just one piece of the comprehensive list of assessments that Kuemper uses to help students discover their strengths.”