LAKEVIEW — There are 26 letters in the English alphabet, but “P, L and A” are three the teachers and administrators at Lakeview High School intend to never see again, at least not in that order and not when they’re referring to the school’s ACT test scores.
On Aug. 16, 2010, those letters, which stand for Persistently Low Achieving, were used by the state to describe Lakeview High School students, along with students from 92 other schools throughout Michigan.
“We didn’t expect to be on that list of 92 schools,” Lakeview High School Principal Gary Jensen said. “It was a wake-up call.”
Just two years later, thanks to the hard work, planning and dedication of Lakeview staff and students, test scores there now rank very favorably among the county’s schools. The average composite score for 11th graders tested this past spring was 18.4, the third highest in the Montcalm Area Intermediate School District (MAISD). According to Jensen, administrators hope to bring that score up to 20 in coming months.
“When we saw those scores (in 2010) we made a completely new plan with staff to affect achievement,” Jensen said. “We got it state-approved and since then the kids have been making real progress.”
The changes Jensen implemented were curriculum-wide, covering math, science, language and the humanities, with the focus on the inclusion of test-taking strategies in all subjects. Jensen adds that those changes are still a work in progress and that some faculty members are ahead of others when it comes to putting the new strategies into everyday use.
“It’s still evolving,” Jensen said.
The forward momentum cannot be denied, however, as is clear from all available data. Though the school placed fifth in the MAISD in reading, Lakeview High School students’ average English scores are the best in Montcalm County.
“Our math scores are also a little lower than we’d like,” Jensen said. “But we are improving. We want to be sitting on top of the numbers game this year.”
Jensen added that a cooperative effort between state and school administrators has helped bring test scores up at the school. By working with state representatives and incorporating their ideas into the various lesson plans, the school has made rapid academic strides. Administrators have no plans to rest on their laurels, however.
“We’re looking to be first in the county,” Jensen said. “That’s the goal. There’s still room for improvement. But by being a data-driven environment, we can look at the numbers and adjust our efforts to the data.”
Jensen admits that, at first, some of the students were reluctant to accept the curriculum changes. However, when they started seeing their improved test scores, most came around. Jensen in large part credits the schools’ improved scores to the diligence of the students and the ways in which they have taken advantage of the additional test-taking training.
Students like senior academic achievers Cassie Johnson and Leesa Deadwyler, both of whom have had offers from Yale, say the school’s new curriculum has been instrumental in helping them achieve their dreams of obtaining college scholarships.
“It really helped,” Johnson said. “I felt a lot more prepared for the actual ACT test.”
Deadwyler says she wasn’t initially excited by the new curriculum, until she began seeing the results.
“I didn’t like it at first,” Deadwyler said. “But once I started working with the tools to succeed, I liked it.”
Practicing for the ACT tests in “academic centers” each day gives students a distinct advantage when it comes to taking the actual tests, but some have voiced concerns that this technique diminishes a teacher’s ability to teach creatively in the classroom.
Veteran Lakeview High School teacher Mike Schreiber says this simply isn’t the case.
“What I like about the ACT is that you can’t really teach for the test,” Schreiber said. “I’m teaching principles, not just memorization. The kids are taking it seriously; they’re learning skills that will accomplish something specific. I have changed my tests to reflect that depth of knowledge, rather than just giving them fill-in-the-blank kind of things.”
This fairly constant focusing on test scores has in itself proved beneficial to the study habits of many Lakeview High School students Jensen adds.
“We’ve got kids looking at their numbers and trying to challenge each other,” Jensen said. “They want to be the best, or at least see a marked improvement in their own scores.”
With the results spelled out in black-and-white in the ISD’s recently released ACT Comprehensive Report, it’s apparent Lakeview High School is on the right track.