Education

Metro-east high schools worked to prepare students for new state test

Marci Reeves says students in her class don’t realize it, but they’ve been practicing for the new state assessment every day this school year.

High school juniors will take the SAT for the first time April 5 in Illinois public schools.

In Belleville District 201, teachers like Reeves worked to prepare students for the new expectations by incorporating them into the curriculum.

“If you ask my kids, ‘How often do we do SAT practice?’ they’ll say ‘Oh, just a few times,’” Reeves said. “But I do it every day. They just don’t know they’re getting it.”

Reeves would give her students writing assignments on paper, which is how they’ll take the SAT. They had to complete those assignments during the class period, like the timed assessment, and then Reeves gave them a grade based on the SAT’s essay rubric.

She also blended SAT practice into her tests about F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby,” which the class read this semester.

“With each chapter, they had a section of the chapter to read, and then I created questions in SAT format that address that passage just like they would see on the SAT,” Reeves said.

The results of the SAT will tell educators whether students are ready for college and careers. Students’ scores will also help determine where they go to college and whether they receive academic scholarships.

The state provides the test they’ll take April 5. But students can pay to take the SAT or ACT, both college entrance exams, as many times as they want and use their highest score when they’re applying for colleges.

The State Board of Education decided in July 2016 to make the switch to the SAT. High school students used to take the PARCC, an end-of-year assessment. The PARCC will continue to be given to students in Illinois elementary and middle schools, though.

The change at the high school level was based on feedback from school districts and in response to Illinois’ budget climate, according to a letter to school districts from State Superintendent Tony Smith.

At the same time, the state board dropped the ACT for college admissions purposes. According to SAT’s creator, the College Board, SAT scores are accepted everywhere, and colleges don’t prefer one test over the other.

One difference between the ACT and the SAT is their assessments of science concepts; the SAT blends science into its reading passages instead of having a separate section for it. So Reeves had her English students reading scientific texts this year, too.

Reeves says bringing state test standards into the classroom is nothing new for Belleville East High School, where she works. Teachers in the English department have been adapting based on Illinois’ assessments since 2001, when the No Child Left Behind Act was introduced, according to Reeves.

Each time the state has picked a new test, Reeves said educators at East would split into teams based on the grade levels they taught to decide how they would make adjustments. Reeves is a co-leader for the team that focuses on curriculum for high school juniors.

“Our approach has always been the same: identify the skills the students need and make sure they have those skills,” she said.

The school has faced criticism for this in the past, according to Reeves.

“People say, ‘Oh, you’re teaching to the test,’ but that’s educationally sound,” she said. “I don’t give a unit test without making sure I’ve covered everything I’m going to test the students on.”

There have been similar efforts to bring assessment practice into the classrooms at Edwardsville High School, according to District 7 Superintendent Lynda Andre. She said tests throughout the school year have included the types of questions students would see on the SAT.

“Vocabulary that is typically present on the college entrance exam is integrated into courses across a student’s day,” Andre said in an emailed statement.

At Collinsville High School, students are offered incentives for showing up on test day and for scoring well. On April 5, there will be a free breakfast for juniors, for example. Depending on their scores, students might not have to take their final exams. They could also be entered into a gift card drawing.

Collinsville Unit 10 spokeswoman Kim Collins said the school has been offering incentives like these for students taking standardized tests for at least a decade.

Both Collinsville High School and East St. Louis High School gave students opportunities to practice for the SAT after school.

Edwardsville High School offered in-depth practice in both the fall and late winter for a fee of $50. Andre said students took an SAT practice test on the first day of the College Entrance Exam Preparation Series to get a feel for the length and format. Then, teachers helped students with the questions they might have missed on the second day. The third day was for teaching test-taking strategies.

Metro-east students could also prepare for the SAT on their own at home with free online resources like Khan Academy. The website offers seven practice tests, study tips, video lessons and more. Many schools also used Khan Academy’s resources in their classrooms.

From the ACT and PARCC to the SAT, Reeves said the new and old tests in recent years have all been similar.

“Really, we haven’t had to reinvent a lot of things that we’ve done,” she said of the curriculum.

The SAT’s paper format will be different for the schools that chose to use the web-based PARCC assessment last year. But like the PARCC, Reeves said the SAT asks students to support their answers with information from provided texts in some sections. It also differs from PARCC in the amount of time it takes students to complete the assessment.

This spring, the total testing time for high school students who will take the PARCC in other states is nine hours and 40 minutes for its six sections. SAT testing will take three hours and 50 minutes for three sections and an essay.

Lexi Cortes: 618-239-2528, @lexicortes

How is the new test different?

SAT

ACT

PARCC

Components

Evidence-based reading and writing, math and an optional essay

English, reading, math, science and an option writing test

Evidence-based English language, literacy and math

Format

Paper and pencil

Paper and pencil

Web-based or paper and pencil

Total testing time

3 hours (plus 50 minutes with optional essay)

2 hours and 55 minutes (plus 40 minutes with optional writing portion)

9 hours and 40 minutes*

Scores

Scale from 400 to 1600

Scale from 1 to 36

Five levels of success compared to state standards and expectations: exceeded standards, met, approached, partially met and did not meet standards

*Note: PARCC testing times vary depending on grade level. The time included is for high school students.

Sources: collegeboard.org, act.org and parcconline.org.

Past test results for local schools

Percentages reflect the students considered ready for the next level. For the ACT, that is a score of at least 21 out of 36. For PARCC, that is meeting or exceeding the standards.

ACT

PARCC

Edwardsville High School

68 percent

39 percent

Belleville East High School

44 percent

50 percent

Belleville West High School

39 percent

47 percent

State average

46 percent

34 percent

Collinsville High School

42 percent

18 percent

East St. Louis Senior High School

5 percent

4 percent

Source: illinoisreportcard.com

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