When high school students — either college bound or those preparing for state-mandated exit exams — require an academic refresher, teachers are challenged to find time, not to mention the tools, to provide the just-in-time assistance most students need.
But that may be changing, thanks in large part to 24/7 online access. Example: “In a typical high school in Baltimore, there is a cluster of maybe 200 or so students who are motivated and able to sign up for hard-to-get-in PSAT or SAT prep classes,” says Baltimore County Public School (BCPS) Assistant to the Superintendent Dr. Barbara Dezmon. “This has always bothered us in terms of providing our district’s 32,000-plus students what we refer to as ‘equity of access’ to prep courses for the SAT, PSAT or ACT exams.”
In fact, Baltimore has just completed a year-long trial of higher education online prep courses delivered by TestU, a New York City-based standardized testing and assessment company. The program was implemented in 19 of the district’s 24 high schools and roughly 90 percent of Baltimore’s high school students now have access to TestU, says Dr. Dezmon. Though it’s too early to tell how many students used the online prep programs during the test- and rollout-phase — “We look at [prep courses] as an entitlement,” she notes, “but they are not mandatory” — the impact will be measured when the scores and turnout are assessed this summer.
“Our aim is to increase academic rigor and increase success on pre-college tests,” says Dr. Dezmon, adding, “All [BCPS] high schools will meet or exceed the national average for participation in SAT or the ACT and all high school students will meet or exceed the national average for combined verbal and mathematics scores on the SAT or the ACT.”
The ambitious goals are possible because of the 24/7 accessibility of the program and its customized nature. “[Our] mission is to give students affordable access to the preparation they need to break the barriers to achievement,” says TestU President (and former NBA star) Len Elmore. “We are committed to creating customized courses based on an individual student's strengths and weaknesses, while providing educators with customized reporting that allows them to manage their curriculum and maximize results. TestU (www.testu.com) was created by top academics, educational experts, administrators and teachers to eliminate the obstacles to high achievement on college entrance and high school exit standardized tests so that most students — not the exclusive few — would be able to prepare themselves for standardized test excellence.”
It appears to be working. At the Hayward (CA) Unified School District’s summer school program, the effectiveness of TestU’s California High School Exit Exam (CAHSEE) preparation program was demonstrated when 57 students who had previously failed the CAHSEE enrolled in the TestU Math, and 31 in the ELA preparation courses. Among the highlights:
? TestU students had a 25% higher rate of passing the July ELA exam than did students in the Control Group.
? TestU students had a 43% higher rate of passing the July Math exam than did students in the Control Group.
? 73% of TestU students passed the Math exam and 44% the ELA who were within 20 points of passing on the March CAHSEE administration. Whereas only 42% of the Control Group students passed the Math exam and 36% the ELA who were in the same performance band.
? 95% of TestU students reported feeling that they had improved their Math skills and 100% their English skills during summer school.
? 98% of TestU students reported that they felt TestU had prepared them well for the CAHSEE.
The CAHSEE prep program is a model for the TestU mission in that it includes an initial diagnostic that enables a customized study plan for each student, interactive skill-building lessons, test-taking strategies, practice tests and full-length simulated exams. “We wanted a program that was fully accessible that would tap the hidden potential of every high school student in our district,” says BCPS’ Dr. Dezmon. “It’s clear that we have significantly increased student participation as well as student scores.”