HOLMEN — It takes a lot of logistics to pull 300 high school juniors together for a three-hour exam.
To give students exposure to the ACT exam, which the state requires all juniors to take in February, an entire wing of the 1,200 Holmen High School campus was dedicated to students taking and teachers proctoring a practice version of the test Thursday morning. The ACT, which provides a composite score from English, mathematics, reading and science testing, is used by colleges and universities in their admissions process and by Wisconsin to measure whether students are proficient in state standards.
The high school has been providing a practice test to students for four years, Principal Bob Baer said. Students at Onalaska High School and La Crosse Logan High School are among other local high schools that practice for the test. At Holmen, students take an older, retired version of the test, with results calculated and analyzed for the district by Cambridge Education Services.
The practice exam is treated like the real thing, with teachers adhering to the strict time limits on the four sections of the exam and enforcing rules that prohibit outside items such as water bottles and cell phones. The results the school gets from Cambridge include a breakdown of scores in the four subject areas as well as detailed information about performance on each question of the test.
Those details allow teachers, counselors and staff to target interventions in specific areas. If most of the students get questions on a topic such as adding fractions, staff can put more resources into another area, such as quadratic equations, if students are struggling with that.
“We like being able to practice the exam,” Baer said. “It lets the kids know just how serious the test is.”
Wisconsin mandated all high school juniors take the test starting three years ago. In other states, such as Minnesota, students choose whether to take the test, which costs between $46 and $62.50 per attempt depending on whether students take the optional writing portion of the exam.
ACT results used to be of interest only to students attending more selective four-year schools, guidance counselor Kelli Korneta said. Today more and more two-year schools and even the military are interested in the scores, as research has shown they are a good predictor of student success after high school.
Junior Kayla Callan hope to go to a four-year school after graduation to study nursing. Because these programs are so competitive, she said she knows she’ll need a high score to get in and hopes to get a 25 or higher on the exam.
She said taking the practice test was good experience, as it showed her just how important time management is. Students only get so many minutes to answer the questions in a subject area, and using that time wisely to answer all the questions can be tricky.
“I had more than enough time for the math questions,” she said, “but reading was a little trickier for me.”