Through a class offered at school, ACT Prep, the students were introduced to the rigor of the test. At a high school that’s relatively young – the class of 2016 will be the fifth graduating class in school history – with a senior class of 109 students, and as one of only five charter high schools in the city of St. Louis, their scores are a notable accomplishment.
Candace Blankenship, Kena Davis, Demarko Gates, Deon Jackson and TaJuan Smith are the first members of the ACT 21 Plus Club. Blankenship, Davis and Jackson each scored 21; Gates and Smith scored 22.
In comparison to the national ACT average score in 2015, they did as well or better than their peers across the country. Of the 59 percent of high school graduates who took the college entrance exam last year, the average score was 21.
To some, it may not seem like a big deal. But historically, CPA’s average score is between 15 and 16.
Three students – Blankenship, Davis and Smith – shared their perspectives on what led them to this accomplishment.
The ACT Prep Experience
ACT Prep is taught by a team of educators: David Dickerson, ACT Prep and College Summit; Ava Smith, English language arts, and Corey Scott, math.
The format is set up so that for 3-4 weeks, students are focused on subject areas of English and reading with one teacher, then for the next 3-4 weeks, the subject areas change to math and science. The subjects rotate through the semester, about 16 weeks. When ACT Prep was first offered in 2012-2013, there was only one section with 15 seniors. Now, the class enrolls nearly 100 juniors and seniors. It is not a required course, but interest has grown.
Without the ACT Prep class, the students admit they wouldn’t have studied on their own, and they wouldn’t have known what to expect, especially on the writing portion of the exam. For each of them, writing felt intimidating. Yet, what they learned from the class, combined with other English classes, helped them write with a clearer purpose and better understanding.
“Ms. Smith put a strict emphasis on reading and English,” said Davis. “It made a difference.”
Her reading score improved from 19 to 30.
And, the trio gives credit to their Honors English 4 teacher, Amy Dean. “She has us write religiously.”
Dickerson explained that during the focus on English, teachers “reinforce usage, which emphasizes punctuation and grammar, and rhetorical skills which focus on text organization and style. For the reading portion, we teach strategies that range from helping students analyze text questions to helping students identify main ideas and supporting textual evidence.
“Students gain a range of benefits from taking an ACT Prep class. Three main benefits are the discipline to sit for a 4-hour exam, test-taking strategies that can prove to be helpful whenever they take multiple choice tests, and the confidence and determination to overcome the anxiety that is often associated with taking the ACT,” he continued.
It must also be noted that the students have taken the exam at least twice. In April 2015, every junior enrolled in public schools took the ACT as a requirement by the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. The test will be given to all juniors in April 2016 and April 2017.
“Their score is important and significant,” said Dickerson. “When students score at the state average, they have a hand in breaking down stereotypes about what students in urban school districts are and are not capable of, and it increases self-esteem and school pride.
“It’s an indicator that our teachers and staff have both an interest in and a commitment to helping to open up doors that our kids might otherwise never have entered. It shows that our students are being taught analytical skills that will contribute to their success in the classroom and working members of society.
“And, having a greater amount of students score the ACT state average helps our school earn points toward our efforts to gain accreditation,” he said.
Dickerson said the ACT 21 Plus Club is important to CPA because it highlights the positive achievements of participating students, and it can be a motivation for others. “If students truly understand the correlation between higher ACT scores and increased chances for post-secondary tuition assistance, they’ll take both the class and test more seriously.”
“In the next 2-3 years, I expect all juniors to take this class as a required course in an effort to raise their overall ACT score by a minimum of four points,” he said.
Preparing for College
Blankenship and Smith applied to a long list of local and regional universities: Southeast Missouri State, Washington University in St. Louis, University of Missouri-Columbia, Webster, University of Central Missouri and Truman State, and out-of-state schools like Central College, University of Arkansas and Ball State. Davis wants to go to college in California, so she applied to University of California-Los Angeles, University of Southern California and University of San Diego, to name a few.
Blankenship was accepted to every school. She and Smith plan to attend SEMO. Davis expects to get her college acceptance letters in March.
At CPA, their class schedules include Advanced Placement psychology, college algebra and College Summit. Smith and Jackson are among a small group who are dual-enrolled at St. Louis Community College-Forest Park.
Smith wants to major in nursing and medicine, and he’s learning to speak Italian on his own. Davis plans to study computer science and Japanese, a language she’s teaching herself. Blankenship’s interest is in education to become a teacher, and she’s learning Spanish at school.
Blankenship and Smith are members of the National Honor Society, all three are involved in student government, and they each have experience as team managers for a school sport.
A History with Confluence Charter Schools
Blankenship, Davis and Smith have been students Confluence Charter Schools for years.
Davis enrolled at the Confluence Academy-Walnut Park campus, now known as Aspire Academy, as a first grader when the doors opened in 2004. Blankenship enrolled at Walnut Park in fourth grade, and Smith started as a seventh grader at Confluence Academy-Old North.
So, why did they choose to stay with Confluence?
“There’s always a teacher or a staff member who tries to get to know you and help you,” said Blankenship. “It’s more than just student and teacher relationships. It’s deeper than that, and it doesn’t end after high school.”