FHS initiative helps students evaluate their college readiness


Photo: Nick Rogers

A Wright State University official tells Fairmont’s seniors about college requirements and opportunities during Fairmont’s College Readiness Day on Aug. 28, 2013.

Only 26 percent of American high school students who took the ACT this year proved to be college-ready in the four main areas of English, reading, math and science, according to the organization that designs the test.

Fairmont High School wants to make sure its graduates are on the right side of that dismal statistic, and so far, the Firebirds are beating the national average. “In all four areas of the ACT, 44 percent of Fairmont students met the benchmarks to be college-ready,” said Fairmont Principal Dan VonHandorf.

Although Fairmont beat the average, too many students are graduating who are not ready for the rigors of college, so Fairmont officials introduced a new initiative this fall. College Readiness Day, which involved testing undergrads to see if they’re on the path to being college-ready, took place on Aug. 28. While the undergrads were testing, the seniors had a chance to visit with representatives from eight colleges and the U.S. military.

The initiative continues at College Readiness Night from 6 to 8 p.m. on Oct. 10, when parents of Fairmont freshmen, sophomores and juniors can visit their student’s advisory to get and discuss the results of the testing.

“There’s a big push in the United States to produce college-ready students,” VonHandorf said, adding that it’s important that students and families get an early idea of how they’re progressing. “They can either make a change, if they want their ACT score to be higher, or keep doing what they’re doing to get to where they want to be.”

The tests that the underclassmen took were the Explore test, the PLAN test and a practice ACT; all three tests were designed by ACT. “The ACT is considered in the Midwest as the Gold Standard for College Readiness,” explained VonHandorf.

Freshmen:  Just like the ACT, the Explore test taken by the freshmen is composed of four parts: English, reading, math and science. Each part has 40 multiple-choice questions, except for the science section, which has 28. The Explore test has a composite score range of 1 to 25, which is benchmarked to the ACT.

“ACT built the test to check to see if freshmen are on track to be college-ready,” said VonHandorf. “The hope is that it will let freshmen who want/plan to go to college see if they are on track like they think they are.”

Sophomores:  The sophomores took the PLAN test, another test created by ACT. It has the same four subjects as the ACT, but it also breaks them down into subsections. For example, the math section includes 22 pre-algebra/algebra questions and 18 geometry questions, and the English section includes 30 usage/mechanics questions and 20 rhetorical skills questions. In addition, the test has 25 reading and 30 science questions.

Riel St. Amand was one of the sophomores who took this test. He said he believes the tests won’t be very accurate. “A lot can change in the two years between now and when we take the actual ACT,” he said.

However, VonHandorf believes the test will help sophomores determine if they are preparing themselves properly to succeed in college. “Plan looks more like the ACT than the Explore test,” the principal said. “It also has benchmarks for college readiness, as well as predicts what score you will get on the ACT.”

Of course, even the ACT website reminds visitors that the scores are only estimates, not guarantees. “Improving your study habits and taking more challenging courses are likely to improve your ACT scores,” ACT advises.

Juniors:  Those in 11th grade at Fairmont took a practice ACT. This test was an ACT test from several years ago, and it gets scored at Fairmont the same way ACT would score it. This will show juniors how prepared they are for the rigors of college courses. However, the results are not reported to colleges because it is not the actual test.

Seniors:  As the underclassmen were taking tests, the seniors had a very different kind of morning. The seniors began in the Auditorium with a presentation by Fairmont Guidance Department Chair David Elliott about the requirements for graduation, college applications and financial aid. When Elliott was finished, the seniors could go to various rooms and attend presentations by representatives from up to three colleges.

Eight schools were represented at the event: the University of Cincinnati, the University of Dayton, Miami University, Ohio State University, Ohio University, Sinclair Community College, Wright State University and Bowling Green State University. In addition, a representative from the United States military presented the benefits of the armed forces.

VonHandorf explained how Fairmont selected the colleges to invite to College Readiness Day. “We looked at last year’s seniors and the schools they most applied and were accepted to,” he said.

Fairmont administrators are still finalizing the details for the Oct. 10 College Readiness Night, but the plan calls for the advisory teachers of 9th, 10th and 11th grade students to give the test results, explain the tests and answer questions from 6 to 6:30 p.m.

After that, parents and students can choose to attend up to three 25-minute College and Career Sessions from 6:30 to 8 p.m. The available sessions will include ones by admissions representatives from Sinclair, Wright State, UD, Miami and Case Western Reserve. Other sessions will include one by a military recruiter, a My College Option presentation and a presentation about special education college admissions.