NASD looks to improve ACT scores

Published 12:15 am Sunday, September 22, 2019


NATCHEZ — Natchez-Adams School District officials are certain about one thing when it comes to preparing students for the ACT.

“What we have been doing in the past, based on our performance, is not working,” Superintendent Fred Butcher told members of the school board Tuesday.

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Butcher said the district needs to take a new approach to the annual college preparatory test.

In Mississippi, all high school juniors in public schools are required by the Legislature to take the ACT. ACT scores are one component of the annual assessment scores for each school district.

In 2018, the composite score of 14 for NASD juniors was four points lower than the state average score of 18.

“We are nowhere close to being happy with our ACT scores,” Butcher told the school board.

In recent months, the administration and the school board have had a renewed focus on the ACT exam and its importance to the school district. Scores are not only an important factor of the district’s annual grade, but also play a critical role in students’ futures, Deputy Superintendent Zandra McDonald said.

“Those are the tests that determine the financial impact for our students, making sure they are prepared to be successful at the next level,” McDonald said.

To address the situation, Butcher said he recommends the school district take a multi-pronged approach to the test.

This multi-pronged approach, Butcher said, will include focusing on ACT test-taking strategies, teaching ACT preparation skills at the middle school level and providing teachers adequate and consistent training.

The Primeo Group

During Tuesday’s meeting, McDonald introduced representatives from the Primeo Group, a group of Mississippi consultants who offer ACT training for teachers and students.

“We were quite impressed by what they are offering,” McDonald said.

Vicki Hewitt, a Natchez native and 1987 graduate of South Natchez High School, led the presentation.

Hewitt said her company provides several services, including ACT preparation skills and college and career readiness.

“We have been reaching out to the public schools. We have researched the scores that Mississippi has,” Hewitt said. “We have submitted a proposal that will hopefully bring up students’ scores.”

Hewitt said the team that will be responsible for training teachers and providing an ACT boot camp for students has been together for approximately a year, but has many years of combined experience in education and leadership.

Hewitt said her team includes Leanna Range-Norwood, who ran St. Andrews Episcopal School in Jackson, and two Mississippi State engineers, Otis Livingston and Sean Williams.

Hewitt said Livingston will be the ACT instructor.

“He has four kids and all of their scores have been above 30,” Hewitt said. “I said, ‘I need you on our team. If you can get your kids above 30 we need that. What are you doing?’”

Hewitt said instead of teaching content, Livingston said he is teaching strategies.

“He said the ACT can be beat. (The test) has not changed,” Hewitt said. “There are other companies that I know are out there, but they are not teaching strategies — the things that kids do not understand.”

Hewitt said her team wants to provide a different approach.

“We don’t teach math, science, English, reading,” Hewitt said. “We teach you how to approach the test as ACT has prepared the test.”

Teaching strategies

Butcher said the school district has not been focusing on teaching strategies to students in recent years.

“I think for the last two or three years we have been focusing on content,” Butcher said. “But we need to focus on content and strategies to be successful.”

Butcher said the district also needs to do a better job training teachers.

Hewitt said her group focuses on teacher training.

“We are training the teachers training the students,” Hewitt said. “And if the teachers are saying the same thing to the students that we are teaching, then they are going to get it.”

Butcher said having an in-house mechanism in place to train new teachers as they come into the school district is “one piece of the puzzle that we are missing.”

Butcher said the district also must start teaching ACT skills as early as the seventh grade to see results.

Past successes

School board member Thelma Newsome said she saw the  importance of teaching strategies to students when she taught in Louisiana.

“You teach the children how to test — the key words to look for, the things that they are supposed to do,” Newsome said. “Everybody won’t get it, but those that do will have it and it will be a lifetime thing.”

“I am glad to see something of this nature come along,” Newsome said.

Newsome said school districts used to have ACT prep workshops in the past. When they did provide training, Newsome said the school district did a better job.

“But just like everything else, we will start things and for whatever the reason we will drop them,” Newsome said. “Once you stop providing those services for teachers and students, naturally those scores are going to begin to drop.”

Newsome said it was only until the state made the ACT a requirement that the district started taking a closer look at ACT scores.

Other considerations

School board member Dianne Bunch asked what other companies the district had considered.

“Some people have proven track records that we can look at for the ACT,” Bunch said. “Training for teachers I am all for. Having consultants come in to do this work, I am cautious of.”

Bunch said she is a strong advocate of ACT and said the district should also consider working with ACT and “the data that comes from ACT themselves.”

Butcher agreed and said the district needs to work with ACT in addition to working with another company, like Primeo, to be successful.

“If  we are going to really make progress, we need to go to the people who designed the test,” Butcher said.

Bunch said she agrees with most of what Butcher recommended.

“Starting early and starting soon, having strategies and training our teachers I am not disagreeing with,” Bunch said. “But I want us to look very closely before bringing in consultants.”

No decision on hiring the Primeo Group was made during Tuesday’s board meeting.