Thousands of high school juniors in Arkansas are preparing to take the ACT, but state education leaders hope it's not the only time they take it.
The Arkansas Department of Education recently rolled out a No Limits campaign, which encourages students to take the college entrance exam multiple times in hopes of improving their scores to get scholarships and have more choices for college.
The multiple-choice tests measure knowledge of English, reading, math and science. Students get a score for each section and an overall composite score -- the combination of the subject area tests -- based on a scale of 1 to 36.
The average composite score of 2017 Arkansas public-school graduates who took the test two or more times was 21.1, compared with 16.5 for graduates who took the test once, according to the Department of Education.
Aubin Payne, a senior at Haas Hall Academy in Fayetteville, took the ACT three times. He scored a 31 the first time he took it in the ninth grade. He received the top score of 36 when he took it last year, he said.
Knowing how to pace yourself and answer questions within the allotted time is the key, Payne said.
"I think most people, if they had enough time, could get every question right, but it's just working your way through it and having the time to do everything, that's the big thing," said Payne, 16. "So taking it multiple times helped in that sense for sure."
Chance Krawchuk, a Springdale High School senior, also has taken the ACT three times, earning a 33 in his last attempt. He learned a strategy for attacking the math test.
"You shouldn't go through the questions in order unless you're just really solid at it," said Krawchuk, 17. "It's a matter of knocking out all the easy ones first, and then coming back to the hard ones once you know you have time."
All Arkansas public-school students can take the ACT once at the state's expense during the spring of their junior year. Statewide administration of the exam for juniors begins Feb. 27, according to the Arkansas Department of Education.
Students from low-income families may qualify to take the test up to two additional times for free. Students should request the fee waivers through their school counselors.
Those waivers have been underused, Arkansas Department of Education leaders reported Friday. ACT issued 14,770 test fee waivers to qualified Arkansas students during the 2016-17 school year. However, 3,451 students, or 23 percent, did not use the waiver.
Students normally pay $46 to take the ACT. The optional writing component costs an additional $16.50.
The average composite score for the 2017 Arkansas public school graduating class was 19.4, down from 20.2 for the class of 2016. State education leaders attributed the drop to the state's new practice of offering the test to all public school 11th-graders regardless of their college-going plans.
Nationally, the ACT composite score for the class of 2017 was 21.0.
The No Limits campaign includes a brief informational video and a hip-hop-style music video, both produced by the Department of Education, that encourage students to take the exam multiple times. Students may take it up to 12 times.
The department is sending informational posters and banners promoting the campaign to each high school. The department also is preparing ACT resource lesson plans for teachers.
Olivia James, a Springdale High School senior, said she took the ACT at least seven times. Her top composite score was a 25.
"I would encourage students to take it as many times as they can. Because it seemed like every time I did, I got more familiar with the test. I went through it faster," said James, 18.
James also attended Saturday prep sessions at her school and got a tutor for extra help.
Krawchuk recommends students not get too anxious about taking the exam, especially if it's their first time.
"Whether it's seventh or 10th grade, there are a lot of opportunities after that," he said. "So the first time, just knock it out. Get through it for the experience. It's not going to be your best score."
Once through that experience, however, it becomes easier to set a goal and shoot for a higher score, Krawchuk said.
A 2016 survey conducted by the National Association for College Admission Counseling showed 82.2 percent of colleges attributed either "considerable importance" or "moderate importance" to ACT or SAT test scores in admission decisions on first-time freshmen. The other 17.8 percent said test scores are of limited importance or no importance to their decisions.
Grades in all courses, grades in college-prep courses and strength of curriculum were the only factors that outweighed ACT or SAT scores in importance.
Mike Fotenopulos, academic coach for the Springdale School District, promotes college and career readiness among Springdale students. One of his tasks is to increase the number of students taking the ACT and SAT.
On Thursday, he took a group of 71 seventh-graders to Har-Ber High School to get some tips on taking the ACT. The seventh-graders had qualified to take the test through the Duke University Talent Identification Program, which helps academically talented students identify their strengths and develop their abilities and interests. They'll take the test Saturday.
"That will be the group I want to pay particular attention to, to see if we can get those ACT scores to rise," Fotenopulos said.
All this week, he plans to be at the Don Tyson School of Innovation putting the school's 140 11th-graders through an ACT boot camp in preparation for the Feb. 27 test, he said.
A lot of kids walk in thinking it's a hard test, but Fotenopulos points out it takes only a score of 19 -- lower than the average score in Arkansas -- to qualify for the state's Academic Challenge Scholarship.
Higher scores can qualify students for bigger rewards, from schools and elsewhere. The Governor's Distinguished Scholarship of $10,000 per year is awarded to students who score a 32 and compile a 3.5 grade-point average.
To achieve that kind of score, Fotenopulos said, "You really have to start putting some time in outside the school day."
Metro on 02/05/2018
Print Headline: State campaign urges teens to retry college entry exam