by Jill Ragar Esfeld
ROELAND PARK — When it comes to ACT scores, Bishop Miege High School here has an impressive senior class.
Fifteen percent scored 30 and above on the college assessment test.
And three seniors — Russsell Gray and Andy Slettehaugh of Good Shepherd Parish in Shawnee and Daniel Mitchell of St. Agnes in Roeland Park — scored only one point away from a perfect 36.
What’s their secret? What expensive ACT workshop did these students attend? What hefty prep manual did they labor through?
“I didn’t do anything,” said Gray.
“On my own, not a whole lot,” said Mitchell.
“I didn’t really do much either,” added Slettehaugh. “I just relied on what I learned at Miege.”
Fortunately for these students, and many others who scored well on the college assessment test this year, what they learned at Bishop Miege was enough.
It’s all in the numbers
President Joe Passantino is proud of the high scores, but even prouder of the progress these students have made.
“I’ve raised my ACT score by 10 points since beginning high school,” said Slettehaugh.
“We’re bringing our students along at a greater rate than other schools,” said Passantino. “And we can prove it with data.”
Indeed, Bishop Miege is possibly the only school in the area able to show statistically how it can help students progress toward college readiness as evaluated by the ACT.
Its data is the product of the Cambridge ACT Prep Program, which has been part of the school’s curriculum for almost 10 years.
The Cambridge program was selected because administrators wanted to be able to measure academic growth from the time students entered Bishop Miege until they graduated — and then compare that growth to a national norm.
“We were looking for some sort of assessment we could use to measure the effectiveness of our academic program — a value-added approach,” said Passantino.
All Bishop Miege students take an ACT test in the fall and spring of each year. In August, freshmen are given the Plan, a pre-ACT test, and other grades take retired ACT tests provided by Cambridge.
In April, all grades take a different ACT exam.
Cambridge crunches the numbers and the data is used to measure the academic growth individually per student, by course, and by classroom.
Teachers use the information to target areas of their instruction that need improvement.
The prep program enables skills and strategies for each area of the ACT sub-tests — English, math, reading and science — to be integrated into the school’s curriculum.
“It’s called data-driven instruction,” explained math teacher Clara George. “We analyze selected data Cambridge provides to us.
“We set goals for our departments and individual goals for our courses — annually, because you have different kids every year.”
Two to three times a month, teachers integrate ACT-based lessons into their curriculum to reinforce and hone skills.
The concepts tested on the ACT are the same concepts taught at Bishop Miege, but teachers take into account the way the ACT will test for that knowledge
According to George, it hasn’t changed the way she teaches.
“I still explain the quadratic functions the way I always have,” she said. “But in the back of my mind I always have to remember, ‘How are they going to be asked about this?’
“So I go to our ACT prep materials and I find how they will be asked to show their mastery of this skill. And we’ll do a practice.”
According to students, these practices also add something in terms of difficulty.
“I think the practices are harder than the ACT,” said Mitchell. “So when you get to the ACT, it’s easier than what you’ve prepared for.
“So you’re, like, ‘I’ve got this, I can do this.’”
Practice makes perfect
Bishop Miege also has an interactive test preparation computer lab with timed exams and practice available to students.
“The tests you take on there are a lot harder than the actual ACT,” said Gray. “They made the real one seem a lot easier.”
George isn’t surprised.
“It is nothing for them to come back and say, ‘Oh, Mrs. George, I was really prepared for that test. I knew what they were asking, I wasn’t afraid,’” she said.
Students said they couldn’t imagine going into the test without knowing what to expect.
“I knew exactly what the questions were going to be like and what the order was going to be,” said Gray. “I felt like that calmed me down a little bit.”
Students will have taken at least five retired tests by their junior year and seven by the time they’re seniors.
After some key testing dates, when teachers know a lot of students have taken the test, they’ll conduct an informal evaluation.
“We ask, ‘What were you ready for? What weren’t you ready for?’” said George. “We learn a lot. And we’re starting to see patterns.”
“It’s been a big investment of resources — mainly human resources,” said Passantino of the program. “The teachers have really made it successful.
“We were hopeful it would work, we had faith, and it just really has paid off!”
The Cambridge ACT Prep Program has been so successful that administrators and faculty were invited to do a presentation about it at the National Catholic Education Association’s 2010 convention.
“Being recognized nationally was nice,” said Passantino. “I think it also helped us realize how unique the program is.”
What’s unique is the data.
Other high schools may boast an impressive ACT average, but that single statistic doesn’t tell anything about the school’s level of instruction. It doesn’t indicate where students started out, how much they’ve improved, or how that compares to the national average.
Bishop Miege can demonstrate the quality of its instruction by measuring student growth, and then seeing how that growth compares with a national norm.
“Fifty percent of our kids scored above the top of the range,” said Passantino. “That’s not determined by where the class comes in — it’s determined by where we take them.”
“Our pitch is this,” he added. “How much can we help your child? We can demonstrate how much we can help them.
“And I don’t know any other school around that has that value-added approach to assessment.”
That data translates to opportunity and value for students looking at colleges. One or two points on the ACT can make a difference in thousands of dollars in scholarships.
And Bishop Miege families don’t have to hire private tutors or buy into expensive ACT workshops to help students gain those extra points.
“Our scholarship average per student is very high,” said Passantino. “And it’s almost doubled since the ACT prep program started.”
More than numbers
Slettehaugh, Gray and Mitchell are all thinking about engineering as a career and are looking at colleges across the map.
Each is grateful for the ACT prep program. But that’s not the only reason they’re happy they chose Bishop Miege.
“You get a good chance to play sports here,” said Slettehaugh. “I’d never really played soccer and I started out playing just for fun.
“And this year I was on the team that won the state championship.”
“Overall, it’s just a great atmosphere,” added Mitchell. “All the teachers invest their time and effort in helping you.”
Gray agreed that Bishop Miege seems to have it all.
“They have enough activities for everyone to get involved,” he said. “And academically, it’s the norm for everybody to try really hard.
“So a combination of everything that’s good about a school is here at Miege.”