The Harlan County and Harlan Independent school districts generally followed the positive state trend in student achievement scores as measured by the American College Testing (ACT) service released by the Kentucky Department of Education this week.
Two local schools ranked among the highest in the state for the average composite score on their respective tests: Rosspoint elementary and Harlan High School.
Assessments taken last fall of eighth and tenth grade students in the two school districts showed improvement in most of the categories compared to the prior year. It is a positive trend that has been ongoing since 2006-07 when the ACT’s “EXPLORE” and “PLAN” tests were introduced.
The EXPLORE test is given to all eighth graders and the PLAN test is given to all tenth graders each September. These two tests are precursors to the ACT college entrance exam given to juniors in March. They test the same areas of knowledge: English, mathematics, reading and science.
Individual student scores have already been sent home to parents. ACT developed benchmark scores in English, math, science and reading to predict whether students are on track to take beginning credit-bearing college courses and be successful after they graduate from high school.
Test scores can be compared in many ways, with one standard method being the average scores of students in each knowledge area plus a composite score, and a second method comparing the percentage of students in each area relative to a benchmark score, one that is provided by ACT.
Officials with the Harlan County School District said they were pleased by some of the improvement shown in both the EXPLORE (eighth grade) and PLAN (tenth grade) scores. Harlan County Schools did note an increase in English, reading and science regarding the percentage of elementary students who met the benchmark scores in those areas.
However, the percentage of students meeting the benchmark score in math declined slightly compared to the prior year, but remains significantly higher compared to the initial 2006 measurement.
Variations exist among the different schools in the county, but among the more successful ones, Rosspoint Elementary School is noted for having one of the highest average composite scores (the combination of English, math, reading and science) in Kentucky at 17.9, good for sixth highest in the state. The school’s 2012 score rated as tenth highest.
In noting his school’s recent history of academic success, Principal Bryan Howard stressed the accomplishments were the hard work of students and teachers over many years, as well as the focus everyone there has for the “atmosphere” of the school.
“We really strive to let students know how important this test is to them,” Howard said. From their choices of high school classes to their future in college, the EXPLORE test is a beginning point, he noted.
“We issue a challenge to them,” he said, “and we are always trying to do better than last year.”
Students and teachers take the matter seriously, Howard added, “Because without the hard work of our students and teachers over many years, this would not happen.”
“More than anything, we focus on developing relationships,” he said. “We try our best to have a family atmosphere here because we believe a great school has a big part in what kind of person each student can be.”
While results are improving, challenges remain in the significant number of students (often a strong majority) in both districts who continue to lag behind the established performance benchmarks in mathematics, science and reading.
English is the only category that consistently has a majority of students performing at or above the benchmark score. A majority of the sophomores at Harlan High School also met the benchmark set for reading, while less than 40 percent of them met the standard for math and fewer than one in four met it for science.
Kentucky students as a whole scored higher on EXPLORE and PLAN tests in 2012, registering gains in every subject tested. State analysts say this shows more students are on track to be ready for college coursework by the time they graduate from high school.
EXPLORE is used as an indicator of readiness for college, provides information for a student’s high school academic plan, and helps students choose careers of interest. PLAN serves as the midpoint check of academic progress in high school and is designed to improve preparation for education, training and work after graduation while students still have time to adjust their high school courses.
Administration of the EXPLORE, PLAN and ACT assessments was mandated by the Kentucky General Assembly in 2006. Action by the state legislature in 2009 required a high school readiness exam in eighth grade and a college readiness exam in tenth grade. EXPLORE and PLAN are used for these purposes. Data from these exams are used in the state’s accountability system for school districts.