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ACT Program Preps Bilingual Students For College

by Amye Buckley | August 16, 2014 at 1:30 a.m.
STAFF PHOTO Spencer Tirey Israel Garcia, from left, looks at a list of words as Hisleny Gracia, Diana Olvera and Aneli Perez listen Friday to teacher Jeanette Arnhart speak during an ACT preparatory class a Heritage High School in Rogers. Students at La Academia ACT are combining strengths in biliteracy with more traditional ACT test preparation.

ROGERS -- This week Manny Mejia, senior at Springdale High School, was getting ready for his sixth crack at the ACT on Sept. 13.

Mejia was one of the students at La Academia ACT hosted by Heritage High School.

At A Glance

Overall Scores

The College Board, the company that offers the ACT exam, tracks college readiness for African American, American Indian, Asian, Hispanic, Pacific Islander and white students. The company doesn’t track students by language background.

The number of Hispanic students taking the ACT has increased from 8 percent of test takers in 2008 to 14 percent in 2012, according to the company’s most recent readiness report.

Cutoff scores are 18 in English, 21 in reading 22 in mathematics and 24 in science. Cutoff scores on the ACT tests represent a student’s ability to get a 50 percent chance of a B or higher and a 75 percent chance of a C or higher during their first college year. Students who don’t make minimum scores in any one area may have to take remedial college classes.

Source: The College Board

By The Numbers

ACT Benchmarks

The College Board administers the ACT. For 2012 test, the business said:

• 49 percent of Hispanic students met English benchmarks

• 31 percent of Hispanic students met math benchmarks

• 36 percent of Hispanic students met reading benchmarks

• 16 percent of Hispanic students met science benchmarks and

• 13 percent of Hispanic students met all four benchmarks

Source: The College Board

He's scored a 25 before, Mejia said, dragging out a study manual flagged with color-coded marks. He's had a teacher who pushed him to take the test. He wishes more teachers would prep students for the test that their college futures hang on. Even talking about one question a day would help, Mejia said.

This week was the first time he's taken a formal class to prepare. He thinks he can do better.

Senior year really only gives students two and a half months to get the college process started, he said. The September and October ACT dates are his final chance to get a top score.

"I think it's really important to start studying now," he said.

The weeklong academy talked to students about financial aid, essays, resumes and had a session for parents, said Luis Restrepo, program director for the Office of Latino Academic Advancement at the University of Arkansas.

Jeanette Arnhart, University of Arkansas Spanish instructor, urged students to use Spanish to make their English better.

"You've got to get out of 'English only' mode," Arnhart said.

English is a mix of other languages, she said. Spanish is a second language for her and she'll still make up words in Spanish sometimes.

Bilingualism doesn't mean that students speak Spanish on the same level as their English, Restrepo said.

Some of the academy class said they'd had moments where they wished they could respond to their parents in Spanish, but couldn't find the words.

Arnhart passed out a list of vocabulary words common on the ACT and SAT exams. These are the words they need to own to be successful in college and later in business, she said.

"Almost 70 percent of these 100 words are directly related to Spanish or Latin. Setenta," Arnhart said, repeating the number in Spanish for emphasis.

He worked to build his English vocabulary for years, said Pablo Cortes, senior at Springdale High School. He was first to raise his hand when Arnhart asked if anyone found more than 30 cognates. Cortes found 65 words from the list of 100 that made sense to him if he used his Spanish. Classmate Bryan Mancia found 41.

Teachers can have low expectations for minorities, said Mancia, a senior at Springdale High School. That changes once they see what he's capable of, he said. He's enrolled in Advanced placement and International Baccalaureate classes, Mancia said.

The two usually would be playing soccer at this point in the summer, but when Mancia got a call about La Academia ACT he asked if Cortes could come.

The September ACT will be his first, Cortes said.

"I thought it was going to be horrible. Right now, with this class? It's making it easier," he said.

First generation college students need to know how to navigate college, Restrepo said.

"It's a lot of soft skills," he said.

Standardized tests look at a limited piece of a student's literacy, Restrepo said.

Crafting a great essay is part of getting into college, getting scholarships, he said. A student might not think to add everything that should be on his or her resume. Both topics were covered in the academy.

The bilingual program is in its third year. The university has other ACT preparation programs, but this one is a good fit for Northwest Arkansas' growing diversity, Restrepo said.

Bijal Patel, senior at Siloam Springs High School, said the sessions gave her a different view of the test. The Spanish-language session didn't apply to her directly because her family is from India. The sessions did help ease her test anxiety, Patel said.

Brian Magana, senior at Siloam Springs High School, said the sessions made the test more understandable.

The math segment may have 60 questions, but students don't need to focus on answering all 60 questions, Bryan Hembree, director of ACT outreach at the university, told students. They need to make their answers count. He dissected the test, reminding students that the hard questions are at the end and they aren't worth any more points than the easy ones.

"This test isn't looking for perfection. Get the easy questions right," he said.

The university's diversity office is making a concentrated effort to reach out to the local Hispanic community, Hembree said. It makes good sense to be in the community with the students, he said.

"We've envisioned this really as a kickstart to the year," he said.

NW News on 08/16/2014

Print Headline: Program Prepares Bilingual Students For ACT


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