Jett proposes change to policy on ACT exams

Fort Payne High School Principal Brian Jett has proposed a strategy to the Fort Payne Board of Education that would incentivize students taking the ACT more than once.

The ACT is a standardized test used for college admissions and covering four academic skill areas: English, mathematics, reading and science reasoning. There is a cost associated with a student taking the test, although this is waived for students receiving free or reduced price lunches.

Jett shared statistics showing that FPHS students have routinely outscored the state average when taking the ACT. Scores tend to increase, often significantly, when sections of the test are taken more than once. For example, in 2019, FPHS students scored an average composite of 19.5 on their first attempt but this rose to 21.6 when two or more ACT tests were attempted.

“Our goal is for all 266 11th grade students to take the ACT test on Saturday, Feb. 6,” Jett said. “This would give everyone at least one test prior to the statewide test on Tuesday, March 9, when the test is a component of our school’s annual yearly progress report card.”

Jett told the school board he polled 11th graders to find out what reward would incentivize them to take the test in February. Of the 170 students responding, 60 percent said they would do this if it exempted them from all third nine-weeks exams. Other rewards included 20 bonus points on anything except the nine-weeks exams (14%) or a gift certificate to a local restaurant (16%).

Jett plans to return to the school board’s Jan. 28 meeting with a proposal to amend the student handbook to add a passage that juniors who take the February ACT will become exempt from semester exams during the second term.

The arrival of COVID-19 disrupted the springtime testing, which typically happens each March. As a result, the majority of Alabama’s four-year universities have done away with requiring college admissions test scores in 2021 school year terms.

Jett, the athletic director at FPHS, used a sports analogy, comparing studying for the ACT to pre-season practice and taking the exams to actual game day experience that leads a team to progressively improve after each opponent reveals areas where focus is needed.

Superintendent Jim Cunningham enthusiastically endorsed Jett’s proposal, calling it “a great experiment to see if we can move the needle [on student scores]. I think we can.”

He stressed that the move would not remove any of the rigor that makes the ACT a meaningful assessment of academic skill.

In other business, the school board:

• received clarification from Cunningham that there are no plans to revert to virtual learning after the Thanksgiving break, as county schools are doing. He said the state has given no order to close schools, although the system could go 100% virtual if needed. He said many of the students who started the year attending virtually had returned to in-person instruction, and although there have been a few cases of students needing to be quarantined for COVID, attendance has averaged around 95 percent.

• heard an update on the progress of the new school campus, Little Ridge Intermediate School, and new tennis courts constructed as a 50/50 venture with the city. Cunningham said the tennis courts should be completed in about a week to offer “a really nice place for people to play tennis, and our tennis team will finally have a place on campus to play.” LRIS, he said, is “taking baby steps toward progress, but it’s noticeable. By the time you tour it in January, you won’t recognize what we toured in the summer. We are very proud of it.”

• hired Stormy Stevens as head tennis coach, Logan Wright at eighth grade girls basketball coach, Erin Cagle as systemwide social worker, Donye Richardson and Jacey Hill as systemwide special education teachers and Paxton Crowe as first grade teacher at Wills Valley Elementary School. The board also approved a leave of absence for Melissa Smith, parent involvement specialist from Jan. 11-April 27.

• approved additions to the substitute personnel list.

• approved the Fort Payne City Board of Education policy manual after a month of posting online for public comment, during which time none was received.

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