Monday, December 28, 2009

Review: ACT Advantage, College Readiness Testing

Ever wonder if your child is ready for high school or for the PSAT, SAT, ACT or other tests that come along for college readiness? I think as homeschool moms, we all worry about whether our kids are on track with their public-schooling peers (at least academically). Though we all know that homeschoolers generally out rank their counterparts, we often fret about OUR endeavors being enough to keep our particular students on track.

Thankfully, there are companies out there that have designed programs to test your child’s progress along the way, enabling you to get a feel for where they are excelling and where they may be lacking. The ACT Advantage tests are designed to do just that. 

They sent me a testing packet to review using their EXPLORE or their PLAN tests for my child. These tests were designed for 8th/9th graders or 10th graders respectively. They also carry a test for 11th and 12th graders called ACT. The Explore and PLAN tests that we were given run just $22.95 each.

Maybe my brain is just fuzzed over with the activities of a semester coming to a close whilst Christmas is brimming over on to our schedule, but I found most all of the literature that was given to me confusing. The booklets all look the same, except for the one word on the front, the directions in each are the same (with the two tests I received to review), and I had a hard time making out which test was best for my daughter’s grade level (9th) right off the bat. It was not in the individual test packets nor the letter that was sent with the literature. I did find it on the first page of the “College Readiness Standards” booklet that was in the literature but the title itself made it seemed like an “extra” that came with the packet. Once I found it, I felt a bit silly for the frustration and chalked it up to overlooking the obvious. 

The tests themselves are formatted after standardized tests with strict directions about those persnickety and official testing things like putting the pencil down when time is called and the correct way in which to color an answer bubble with your pencil.  Since this test was designed to show places that may be lacking, I personally only asked that my daughter mark where she was when “time” was called but to continue with her test so that I could still compare her answers to the correct ones and find any gaps she may have. Yeah, I would get fired if I did that proctoring an SAT test. 

The EXPLORE test she took is divided into English, Math, Reading and Science. She only needed extra time on her English and really did well on the tests she took. The directions for the tests themselves are easy to understand and she did not have a problem getting through the material. 

The answers were also easy to check and adding the basic score to each section was simple as well. Interpreting the results was a different story. I found their explanation of the test scores, their differentiating between the raw score vs. the scale score and their directions for deciphering the results confusing.

Have you ever talked to a doctor or perhaps someone in the military and they just casually throw out technical jargon or acronyms and abbreviations that only someone in their line of work understands? Well, that is the impression I had reading the explanation of the test scores and how they should be interpreted. I am sure it made perfect sense to the person who wrote the directions (and the test) but it was all rather mystifying and indistinct to me. The terminology was confusing and I had to keep rereading the paragraphs to follow the train of thought. At this point I am still not completely clear on where my daughter’s scale score in Reading was to be properly placed on the 9th grade Table that compared her score to the national norms. 

From the results of the test, one should go back to the booklet called “College Readiness Standards,” and look at the suggestions for practice and emphasis within each subject based on the child’s score. This is helpful, with suggestions on the types of things to integrate (such as checking verb tense, deleting irrelevant clauses and reading a variety of genres within the English Standards suggestions for my daughter’s grade). The same Readiness Standards chart is used for all levels of tests (as I understand it) and so the suggestions range from simple to much more complex for the older student. However, I have to wonder if a chart similar to this couldn’t be procured over the internet.

It may well be that I am just too right-brained for the ACT Advantage test and therein lies the problem. I am sure many of you would look at the packet and shrug because it is so obvious to you how it all works. For me, however, it was an overall confusing experience. The test itself seemed fine, which is good for the student, but the rest just left me feeling frustrated. 

You can check out ACT Advantage on line by clicking here; see for yourself what they have to offer and if it is a good fit for you and your brain! Ultimately, it isn’t about the parents, but the student, I realize that. However, if the parent can’t make heads or tails of something, that doesn’t leave the student in the best position either.  I think ACT Advantage is tapping into a good and needed niche but feel they could stand to make it much more user friendly.

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At the Intersection of Creation and Evolution: A Dream

The alliterating story below is based on a dream I had several years ago. Please contact me for permission to reproduce.

Darkness devours me.

I am enveloped in emptiness.

Are my eyes open or are they closed? I strain against this shroud of night and still see nothing.

What is this place?

An image illuminates in front of me. A large, leafy tree streaks past and vanishes.

It deserts me to the darkness again.

In a moment, more images appear. A rapid succession of snapshots and thoughts clamor before my eyes and mingle in my mind.

I see seedlings. Several supple shoots have emerged before me and then swiftly stream away.

“The first trees on earth were not seedlings”, my mind observes. “They were not created as small insignificant saplings.”

That thought is rapidly replaced with a vision of a man.

He’s maybe 30; he is muscular and needs to shave.

He fades away.

In his place I see an infant.

A tiny bundle of pink skin upon a soft blanket flickers briefly in my brain.

“Man was created with age,” is the next statement I hear. “Adam did not begin his life as a baby, he began as a grown man.”

The voice seems like my own.

The thoughts do not.

Reeling before me now is a blur of rivers, forests, mountains and even layers of the earth. It is like a movie rushing rapidly before my retina.

The soundtrack of this epic is proclaiming a peculiarly plain concept:

“The earth was created with age. Creation and evolution are not in total opposition. There is a reason that science finds the earth to be quite old: it was made that way.”

Thoughts continue to tumble through my mind; pictures parade before me. I listen in amazement to what seems to be puzzlingly profound and yet rather apparent all at once.

“Adam was created as an adult. Trees and plants were made fully grown.”

I suddenly feel quite certain that, if I were to chop down some of the trees that had been spoken into existence, I would find a range of rings running through their trunks.

“The earth was brought to life with age built into it… just like Adam. He did not begin life as an infant. The earth came into being with what it would need to sustain the life that was created. It was old when it was young. The world was
made with maturity; it was also produced with purpose.”

These thoughts are thrilling. Why had I not seen this before? It seems so simple. Obtusely obvious. Had others not observed this correlation? If they had, why wasn’t it being candidly conveyed?

In the span of thirty seconds I have been ravaged by a radical revelation. I feel the weight of its worth resting on me; it is tantamount to tangible.

I am neither a theologian nor am I a scientist. I don’t claim that the ethics of evolution are completely compatible with the Bible’s account of creation. But certainly Science can come concurrent to creation and affirm our faith with facts.

Of course, the Omnipotent Originator of the Universe is exceedingly elusive to what our mind could ever envision. Above what science could ever extensively elucidate.

Accordingly, creation is confounding too. Each diverse discovery deems it more marvelous to grasp. Many scientists have reluctantly relented to the theory of Intelligent Design.

That’s why, alongside those facts, we also need faith.

Lying inexplicably at the intersection of those two essential elements is an exceptional endowment: the intermittent insight of our dreams.