Information on the ACT, a standardized college entrance exam, its results and preparation at Garden City High School was presented at the Monday USD 457 Board of Education meeting.

Crystal Steinmetz, curriculum and assessment director, said the exam is optional and covers five areas: English, reading, math, science and an optional writing component.

Beginning in the 2018-19 school year, the State Department announced it would pay for all juniors and seniors to take the ACT on their school campuses, Steinmetz said.

Before this past school year, students had to register and take the exam off campus.

GCHS principal Steve Nordby said that since the school district began administering the exam last school year for free on campus, they have seen an increase in students taking it.

“When we gave it on campus for free and made it real easy to take, we had a lot of kids taking the assessment that really hadn't thought about it before — 'sure, it's free, it's here, I'll take it,’ ” he said.

In 2017, 213 students from GCHS took the exam. In 2018 there were 192 students, and in 2019 it jumped to 251 students.

Nordby said GCHS usually has about 200 students take the exam each year, so the jump to 251 was significant.

“The state of Kansas has an increase of around 600, maybe a little less than 600 students taking the test,” he said. “Garden City had about 60, so 10% of that jump in the state came from Garden City High School, that’s a big increase for us.”

With the increase in students taking the exam and the school administering it, they learned a lot about the exam and how prepared students were, Nordby said.

“We really were able to walk through the whole process with them and debrief with them as soon as they got done and hear them say 'Mr. Nordby, I am never doing that again. That was hard, I wasn't ready for it,’ ” he said.

Because of that response, they decided to try and find ways to get a better look at where students’ skills are and what they can do at the high school level to better prepare the students, Steinmetz said.

One step in that was administering the Pre-ACT to juniors and they brought in trainers from the ACT to work with staff on how to read the reports from the testing.

They also decided to utilize that knowledge with the ACT Academy, a free service for students that allows students to do a deep dive on the data from their test and see where they need to improve and what they can do to better their scores, Steinmetz said.

They also participated in the ACT Aspire Program.

Steinmetz said it is similar to the Pre-ACT or ACT but they are able to break it into sections where students can take English, reading, math and science sections during their classes.

Additionally, they can break down the exam question by question, Steinmetz said.

“We used that to plan their instruction and areas that they need to review or address more thoroughly,” she said.