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Assessments: Navigating Academic Measuring Sticks

posted Dec 4, 2014, 11:05 AM by Brenda Williams   [ updated Dec 4, 2014, 11:06 AM ]
As students progress through high school, they experience a number of assessments that measure academic growth and achievement, and predict potential success in career related fields. As many of you may already be aware, there are a number of different assessments that students take these days: MCAs, EXPLORE, PLAN, ACT, PSAT, and SAT. All of this can be a bit confusing. The following is a guide to help understand what is being assessed and how to interpret the results.

The ACT includes 215 multiple-choice questions and takes approximately 3 hours to complete. This year ALL junior students in Minnesota, including those in Pequot Lakes Schools, will take the ACT. The test will take place on April 28, 2015. The ACT will be offered free of charge and is a graduation requirement for all students in Minnesota. High schools use ACT results in academic advising and counseling as well as evaluating the effectiveness of instruction, identifying students who need help with certain subject areas or academic skills, and improvements in curriculum. The ACT scores range from 1 to 36 with data tracked for students who have taken core (advanced level) classes and for students who have not taken core classes. Students are assessed in all four academic areas (English, Math, Reading, and Science) and receive a composite score for the total data. Colleges use the ACT results for admission decisions, course placement, academic advising, loans, and scholarships.

The ACT PLAN and EXPLORE include tests in English, math, reading, and science similar to the ACT assessment students take in their junior or senior year. The PLAN is given to all sophomore students and the EXPLORE to all eight grade students. Both the PLAN and EXPLORE will give an estimated ACT composite score range that tells how other students scored on the ACT as seniors after achieving the same composite score. Improving study habits or taking more challenging courses may help students strengthen skill areas related to the estimated ACT score. Students need to remember that the score range in the PLAN and EXPLORE is only an estimate and not a guarantee. The estimate score can be used to see if students are on track to achieve the scores they want by the time they take the ACT later in high school. Future course decisions can be made to strengthen areas of interest or needed improvement. The PLAN and EXPLORE assessments also help students explore careers that match their interests. A World-of-Work Map gives students a sense of direction. Students are asked to choose a career area having jobs they might like and to complete an interest inventory. A map is created highlighting the student’s career interests. Students can see the similarities and differences between career areas giving them a starting point to begin exploring career choices.

The PSAT is a practice test for the SAT, which is a test that measures verbal and mathematical skills important to successful academic performance in college. It assesses the ability to reason with facts and concepts rather than the ability to recall and recite them. The test is considered a preliminary scholastic aptitude test and is recommended for students who are planning to study at a four-year college after high school. Juniors who are planning to attend a four- year college after high school should take this exam. The SAT and SAT Subject Tests are designed to assess academic readiness for college. These exams provide a path to opportunities, financial support, and scholarships, in a way that is fair to all students. The SAT and SAT Subject Tests keep pace with what colleges are looking for today, measuring the skills required for success in the 21st century.

The MCAs (Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments) are tests that measure student performance on essential skills in written composition, reading and mathematics for success in the 21st century. In high school, the written composition is given in 9th grade, the reading test is given in 10th grade, the science test is given to 9th grade, and the math test is given in 11th grade. The purpose of these assessments is to measure Minnesota students’ achievement with regard to the Minnesota Academic Standards.

By understanding these assessments, curriculum and instruction planning can be geared to have the greatest effect on student achievement along with identifying current achievement levels and interests. Assessments have become the educational tools that create pathways for student success.

--  Chip Rankin, High School Principal