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Alabama School District to Pay Students for High ACT Scores

by Suada Kolovic

In a perfect world, every student would have an unquenchable thirst for knowledge and an insatiable passion for learning. Reality check: We don't live in a perfect world and motivating underachieving students to perform well in school and on standardized tests is a serious challenge. What should educators do? The school board in Huntsville, Alabama has decided to try an approach many exasperated parents have considered: cold, hard cash for high ACT scores.

To encourage students to apply themselves while ensuring the district maintains an academic edge in the state, the school board unanimously agreed to pay students for achieving benchmark scores on the ACT. Here’s the breakdown: Benchmark scores will be set and for every component of the test a student reaches a benchmark score, $50 will be earned. If a student gets an overall score of 22 or higher, they’ll get an extra $100 and students will have the opportunity to earn $300 total! "The ACT is important," said Superintendent Casey Wardynski. "It's important for our kids but they may not all realize it because they're taking it junior year, or some may not think they're going to college or want to have that test under their belt for when they do choose to go to college," she added.

With another round of standardized test dates just around the corner, students are praising the initiative while concerned parents are questioning where the funds will come from and if it's a form of bribery. So, future ACT test takers, where do you stand? Do you think providing a financial incentive is right way to motivate students or not? Share your thoughts in the comments section.


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by Administrator

In high school, students were limited to more or less five core subjects. Yes, additional extras were offered, but the list wasn’t very extensive. Once students enter college, it becomes obvious that there is much more to choose from. And additional career options translate into additional entrance tests. Don’t be stumped when your friends rattle off their stressful exam plans. Below are top testing acronyms—no need to be confused.


ACT- The American College Test (ACT), like the SAT, is a college entrance test. It is usually taken during a student’s junior or early senior year of high school. Most colleges take ACT or SAT scores into consideration when making admissions’ decisions.


AP- The Advanced Placement (AP) test is taken by high school students who wish to receive college credit for their high school work. Test takers have usually taken advanced placement classes in high school. Students who score sufficiently well in one or more of the subject options (there are over thirty), may be able to bypass certain college class requirements.


DAT- The Dental Admission Test (DAT) is for students who wish to enter the field of dentistry. In addition to general academic skill, the test measures knowledge of scientific information and perceptual ability. Because it is more than four hours long (not counting breaks), you can say that it measures stamina as well.


GMAT- The Graduate Management Admissions Test (GMAT) is used to assess a student’s readiness for business school.  Plenty of students attempt the test during their senior year of college, but there are many others who wait a few years. Many business schools look for applicants with sufficient work experience, and that may require a few years of full-time work.


GRE- The Graduate Record Examination (GRE) is less major specific. Students with a wide range of interests and plans take the GRE before entering graduate school. The test is composed of three sections, the Quantitative Reasoning, the Verbal Reasoning, and the Analytical Writing.


LSAT- The Law School Admission Test (LSAT) is a test taken by students who wish to attend law school. It may be retaken, but unlike the GRE, it is only offered a few times per year. The test measures a taker’s reasoning skills more than it does their acquired knowledge.


MCAT- The Medical College Admissions Tests (MCAT) tests a student’s preparation for medical school. It tests both thought process and acquired scientific knowledge. Like the DAT, the MCAT is very time consuming.


NCLEX-RN- The National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN) is taken by students pursing a career in nursing.  It is used to determine if students are ready to become registered nurses (RN) and composed of four major categories and eight subcategories.


PSAT- The Preliminary SAT (PSAT) is a preparatory version of the SAT. Students who take the test, in addition to working out their brain, may get the chance to compete for national merit scholarships based on scores.


SAT- The Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT) is a college entrance exam for high school students. Most students choose to take this test during their junior or senior year. The majority of colleges require that students submit either an SAT or an ACT score as a part of their application package. Depending on the college, one, the other, or neither may be required.


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by Emily

The National Association of College Admission Counselors (NACAC) plans to address questions of early decision admission and the role of standardized testing in the admission process in panels during their annual conference this week.  In preparation, they have released the results of a survey showing that early decision admissions had begun to fall, as well as commentary on the state of the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) and American College Test (ACT) in college admissions.

A special panel convened by NACAC released a statement suggesting that standardized tests such as the SAT and ACT may play too prominent a role in college admissions.  While the report emphasizes that standardized tests can play an important role in the admissions process, especially in helping students choose which schools may be a good fit for them, it also declared the importance of avoiding a one-size-fits-all approach to testing.  This position represents a shift from previous NACAC commissions' stances on standardized testing.

Another survey released this week by NACAC highlighted other shifts in college admissions, namely a slowing of the increase in early decision admissions as compared to previous years.  Many schools are giving students going through the college application process the option to make a binding committment to attend that college if accepted in a process known as early decision.  Critics argue that this puts poorer students who are unwilling to commit to attending a college without receiving their financial aid package at a distinct disadvantage in being considered for admission.  While many colleges still are embracing the idea, this shift in figures could show some hesitation on the part of admission offices or students regarding the still-controversial issue.

Additionally, the survey illustrated some doubt regarding a new practice of priority applications, which are sent to students based on a variety of criteria and are already partially completed.  Priority admission applications are sent by the school, rather than requested by the student, and are typically sent out based on prior contact with the admissions office, test scores, or geographic location.  Only 4% of these forms, which occasionally come with an application fee waiver, are sent to students based on economic status.

Other survey results showed that more students seem concerned with ensuring they make the right college choice, and that most students who apply to schools are given the opportunity to go to college.  An increasing number of students are applying to more than seven colleges, and that about the same number of students as the previous year applied to more than three schools.  Nationally, 68 percent of students who apply to colleges are admitted.  Online applications also continue to gain popularity.


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CollegeWeekLive

March 25, 2009

by Emily

Are you getting ready to kick off the college search, but unsure where to begin?  Today and tomorrow, prospective college students can participate in CollegeWeekLive, a free college prep event featuring college admissions and financial aid information from schools and experts across the country.  The event takes place online at CollegeWeekLive.com and kicks off today at 10 AM EDT, with the first keynote address scheduled for 11 a.m.

Participants in CollegeWeekLive will be able to visit virtual information booths and speak with admissions officers from colleges of all sizes in every part of the United States, as well as several online and international schools.  Current students from over 75 colleges will also be available to chat live and answer your questions about student life.

Admissions, testing and financial aid experts will also give live, streaming presentations throughout the day both days.  Topics range from athletic scholarships to standardized test preparation.  Speakers include Scholarships.com's Kevin Ladd, who will be sharing information and advice about finding and winning scholarships.  Kevin will be speaking at 5 PM Eastern tomorrow, so take the opportunity to hear what one of our scholarship experts has to say!

If you're a current high school student thinking ahead to college, this is a great event to check out.  Learn about colleges you may want to attend without spending hours in a car, and hear what people in the know have to say about paying for school.  Students who register also have a shot at winning prizes.


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by Emily

Standardized tests area huge part of the college application process, and one of the biggest issues college-bound students and their families face is whether and how extensively to make use of ACT and SAT test preparation services. Standardized test prep can range from taking a practice test online to spending hours in intensive one-on-one tutoring sessions, with countless options in between.  Debate has raged for years over how much test preparation courses actually pay off, and a new study published by the National Association for College Admission Counseling represents perhaps the most ambitious effort to quantify these gains.

Through analysis of previous research, the NACAC study concludes that a consensus has emerged that score increases for students who use test prep services tend to be fairly small, often only 5 or 10 points on the critical reading section of the SAT and 10 or 20 points on the math section.  Evidence is still inconclusive as to ACT score gains, according to the study.  However, the study also surveyed college admissions offices to determine the impact of score gains and found that score increases on the upper end of this average range can have a significant affect on a student's chances of being admitted to a top college.  Inside Higher Ed has a more detailed breakdown of the study and its implications.

With many high school juniors already signing up to take, or in some cases already awaiting scores from, the SAT and ACT, the release of this study is timely.  It is not a ringing endorsement of extensive and expensive test preparation programs, but does provide an argument for at least taking some time to familiarize yourself with the standardized test you will be taking before you show up for the test day.  If you're competing for admission at your dream school or vying for an academic scholarship, those few extra points on your test score could make all the difference.


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by Agnes Jasinski

Thousands of college admissions staff, high school counselors, and higher education professionals will gather in Baltimore today through Saturday to discuss topics that include the economy's effects on colleges and the much-debated topic of standardized testing and its relation to the admissions process.

>The focus of the annual National Association for College Admission Counseling conference this year is the many different views on college admissions entrance exams. A study from NACAC released earlier this year showed that while the impact of extensive test prep tutoring programs was not very significant on standardized test scores - minimal on the SAT and inconclusive on the ACT - that impact was enough to suggest that lower-income students who couldn't afford tutoring were still at a disadvantage. The handful of extra points on a standardized test could mean the difference in whether you're accepted into a school that has a minimum cut-off in their admissions standards.

Prior to that study, NACAC had released a report suggesting the standardized testing system was broken, and that colleges should consider doing away with test scores as part of their admissions processes. That report found that standardized test prep benefited the wealthy and those who could afford it, and made high school students focus too much of their energies on testing strategies rather than the rest of their academic profiles.

On Saturday, the conference will host a "mega session" to revisit those studies and reports, and to come up with recommendations and potential alternatives to the existing standardized tests. The session will also revisit the recent release of "Crossing the Finish Line: Completing College at America’s Public Universities," a book that analyzes graduation rates at state colleges and the disparities that exist among different races and socioeconomic statuses.

This afternoon, the conference features a session on strategies for SAT preparation. Tomorrow, the schedule includes a session on curriculum-based tests and their effects on students and the admissions process. The association will also be discussing the release of its new textbook, Foundations of Standardized Admission Testing, which is targeted at admissions professionals and explores both best practices and the controversies surrounding standardized testing. This is the 65th year of the conference. If you happen to be attending on any of the days, visit Scholarships.com, an exhibitor at the event.


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by Agnes Jasinski

American University has expanded its “test-optional” application policy, giving all students who apply to the school before Nov. 1 the option of choosing whether or not to submit their ACT or SAT scores as part of their applications. The college had up to this point only allowed early-decision candidates to opt out of providing standardized test scores.

Although the early-decision deadline is later—Nov. 15—being accepted by a college early typically means you need to decide right then and there whether you’ll accept admission to that college or go elsewhere. Opening up the policy to even those regular decision students will give more students the power to decide what they’d like to include in their applications to the school. Those students who do take advantage of the policy and submit their applications early won’t necessarily hear back about whether they’ve been accepted to the school early; they’ll be notified by the regular April 1 deadline.

According to an article yesterday in The Chronicle of Higher Education, a good number of even the early-decision candidates chose not to submit their standardized test scores last fall. Of the 538 early-decision applicants the school received, which in itself was an increase of about 33 percent over the previous year, 191 did not submit test scores, according to The Chronicle. While administrators said it takes longer to review applications that don’t include the test scores, giving students who may not do as well on their standardized tests but who excel elsewhere an opportunity for admission is worth it. Admissions officials now pay more attention to the kinds of courses students took, including AP classes and other college-level work.

Standardized testing has been criticized for years, with the National Association for College Admission Counseling going so far as to say the practice should end altogether in favor of a more holistic application process. American University isn’t the only college to go test-optional in recent years, either. Saint Michael’s College in Vermont no longer requires that potential new students submit SAT scores as part of their application process. The school reasons that some students are better test-takers than others, and that there are other ways to evaluate applicants instead. Students there may still choose to submit either their ACT or SAT scores if they feel it will help their applications.


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by Agnes Jasinski

Although average ACT scores were lower this year than the previous year, it wasn’t all bad news on this year’s ACT score report. High school graduates who took the test this year are slightly more prepared for college than their peers in years prior, despite the average lower scores.

According to the report, The Condition of College and Career Readiness 2010, about 71 percent of test-takers met at least one of four college readiness benchmarks in English, math, reading or science. About 47 percent met between one and three benchmarks, and 24 percent met all four benchmarks. Last year, 23 percent met all four benchmarks; in 2006, that figure was around 21 percent.

An article from the Associated Press in USA Today this week explains that test-takers this year were a more diverse group of students. While they did score lower overall, how they did meeting benchmarks is encouraging to the authors of the test. To measure college readiness, the standardized test translates students’ subject area scores into data that shows their chances of receiving passing grades in college coursework. The content on the ACT can relate to courses like biology and general education social science and psychology classes, for example. It’s also important to note that more students in general are taking the test, so slight gains like this in any area may mean more than you think.

Other data pulled from the report included the following:

  • 29 percent of test-takers were of a minority group, up from 23 percent in 2006.
  • Average scores for Hispanic students decreased slightly, from 18.7 last year to 18.6 this year, but the number of students from that student population taking the ACT has nearly doubled in size.
  • Average scores among other race/ethnic groups were 23.4 for Asian students, 22.3 for white students, 19 for American Indian students, and 16.9 for black students.
  • The national average for all student groups was 21, down from 21.1 last year. (The ACT is measured on a scale of 1 to 36.)
  • Those students who took a core curriculum in high school were more likely to meet their college readiness benchmarks; students who took more than three years of math in high school were more than 42 percent more likely to meet their benchmarks in that subject area than those who didn’t.

While more colleges are going “test-optional” when it comes to providing standardized test scores as part of your college application, both the ACT and SAT remain important at most institutions of higher education. At those schools with a high number of applicants, there may even be a cut-off score as part of the admissions process. You’ll probably then still need to take either test, despite growing criticism over the effectiveness of standardized tests. Take a look at our Standardized Testing section for more information on how you can better prepare for not only undergraduate admissions tests, but graduate and professional school tests like the GRE and LSAT as well.


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Your Score’s in the Mail...or Not

One Hundred High School Seniors’ ACT Results Lost

February 3, 2011

Your Score’s in the Mail...or Not

by Suada Kolovic

What three letters can inspire fear and loathing in the hearts of high school juniors and seniors nationwide? Depending on the region you live in, the answer is either the SAT or ACT. After a tense afternoon of test-taking, the last thing students want to think about is having to take the test again but for a group of Oakland high school seniors, that was their only option because ACT lost 100 of their test scores. According to ABC Local News, the standardized test scores were lost in the mail. ACT informed the affected students of the mishap on part of the organization and said they’d waive the fee for the February test dates. The problem: Some admissions decisions are due by March, so it may be too late for these applicants to be considered by some schools.

A spokesperson for ACT told ABC that the affected students have been “urged to contact the college(s) and inform them of the situation. The students may provide the college a copy of the letter they received from ACT regarding the need for the retest.” The spokesperson added that colleges are usually flexible when such a mistakes occur…and this isn’t the first “mishap” on the part of ACT either: Back in August, a handful of students didn’t receive their marks for months due to postal slip ups and yet here we are once again.

Snail mail is beyond outdated; aren’t there better ways to receive your test scores? ACT, have you heard of e-mail? To those of you who just received your test scores, how would you feel if this happened to you?


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Save Your Standardized Test Scores!

by Jacquelene Bennett

Here is a bit of advice for all you graduating high school seniors: Save your test scores!

All that time and money you spent on the SATs, ACTs and APs and all those other acronymonous tests are not for naught! Besides being a tool for college admittance, these tests will actually benefit you later on in your college career. I know...crazy, right? All that time spent studying vocabulary, major historical dates and algebraic equations was actually worth it in the long run!

I know from personal experience: My SAT I scores on the writing and reading comprehension sections (good but not great scores, mind you) exempted me from a general requirement writing class. While your SAT scores are generally used for assessing your placement within a university, these scores can sometimes aid your college in placing you in the proper introductory classes or can waive your gen eds entirely (though every school is different so check with the registrar).

For those of you who took AP classes and did well on the final AP tests, scores of three or higher usually exempt you from certain college courses. I have a friend who didn’t have to take any history, science or foreign language gen eds because her AP scores were accepted in lieu of taking these classes. Pretty cool!

So, like I said before, save those scores! And for those you who are still undergoing this standardized testing process, do your best on them – they could save you from the headache of having to take a 100-level English class later on.

Jacquelene Bennett is a rising senior at the University of Redlands where her areas of study are creative writing, government and religious studies. When she is not studying or working, you can usually find her eating frozen yogurt or blogging about her day. She has a cactus named Kat and believes that Stephen Colbert is a genius. Jacquelene works hard, laughs hard and knows that one day you’ll see her name in lights.


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