Education program focuses on improving ACT scores

Release Date: 1/6/2012

Thanks to a grant from the Arkansas Department of Education, the University of the Ozarks' Pat Walker Teacher Education Program is ready to take on the task of helping improve ACT scores for area high school students.

The University's teacher education program was informed in November that it had received a $24,182 grant from ADE in a program to partner with school districts at Clarksville, Lamar, Westside and Scranton. The goal of the College and Career Readiness Planning Program (CCRPP) is to improve ACT scores of students from the four partner school districts.

The ADE had previously used individual school districts to coordinate ACT training programs, but decided for 2012 to allow colleges and universities within the state to coordinate the programs. With encouragement from several local school districts, Ozarks submitted a proposal to ADE and was one of the colleges chosen to coordinate a training program.

"We had the superintendents from Clarksville, Lamar, Scranton and Westside come to us and request us to be a training site," said Dr. Glenda Ezell, chair of the University's Walker teacher Education Program and author of the grant proposal. "To have superintendents come and ask you to partner with them is a compliment to our teacher education program and to the entire University."

The training program at Ozarks will be coordinated by Dr. Michael McManus, assistant professor of education. McManus will also serve as a reading instructor in the program. U of O math instructor Stacy Key will also be one of the program's instructors, and Lisa Thomas, office manager in education, will assist with data collection. Other instructors will come from the four partner schools.

Ezell said she expects around 50 high school students from the four school districts to take part in the training. The training sessions will be held every other Saturday, beginning in February. The program will culminate with the students taking the ACT on campus in June.

"The program is completely free for the students, including lunch on campus," said Ezell. "Even the (ACT) test is paid for. The program is really set up to benefit the students who take advantage of it."

The training program also gives the high school students an opportunity to see the Ozarks campus and interact with some of its faculty members.
"We feel like it's a win-win situation for us," said Ezell. "We're providing a service to the community, but there's also a chance some of these students will visit here and decide this is where they want to go to college."

One of the unique aspects of Ozarks' training program is the use of college students to assist in the program, according to Ezell. Students from the teacher education program as well as from other academic areas will assist the high school students in both one-on-one and small group settings.

"A lot of times students can relate better to other students closer to their age, so we felt like this is something that could help," Ezell said. "It will benefit the high school students, and it will also benefit our students because they are getting real-world experience."

Another unique aspect of the training program is the use of supplemental on-line material that students will have round-the-clock access to.
"They will be able to access the on-line study-guide material 24-7," said Ezell. "We feel like this is a strong value-added component for preparing them to take the test."

Ezell said the primary goal of the program is to increase ACT scores for the students going through the program. According to data compiled by the ACT, in 2011 the average composite ACT score in Arkansas was 19.9, which ranked 43rd out of the 50 states. Ezell's grant proposal also referenced the high poverty rates in the area covered by the four school districts.

"If we can improve test scores, we can really increase the opportunities these kids have," Ezell said. "A lot of these students would be first-generation college students, and the only way they can afford to go to college is if they can get some assistance, such as scholarships. And the way to get scholarships is to increase those ACT scores. Getting those ACT scores up is a way to break that cycle of poverty."

Ezell said she has been especially pleased with the support the entire campus community has provided in preparing Ozarks to become a training site

"We've really had to pull this together very quickly, and I can't say enough how supportive other faculty members and just everyone has been," she said. "Everyone is willing to go the extra mile to make this program a success. The grant is only for one year, but we're hoping that it will go very well this year and eventually become an annual program here."