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Struggling to Figure Out the Secret to ACT Improvement

With yesterday's release of stagnant ACT scores from the 2012 graduating class, talk of how to improve student performance continues.

Higher standards, more rigor, and better teaching are among the solutions often discussed. But not only is there no simple solution, educators are not getting much help from baffling new research into test-taking behavior.

A recent study in Indiana found that students from high schools with improving state test scores did no better on the ACT than others.

Adam Maltese, an assistant education professor at Indiana University, and Craig Hochbein, an assistant professor in the school of education and human development at the University of Louisville, looked at the testing performance of 3,000 to 5,000 high school seniors from three graduating classes at schools in Indiana that had showed consistent improvement on the Indiana Statewide Testing for Educational Progress exam.

Reviewing the performance of 87 to 114 schools each year from 2008, 2009, and 2010, the researchers found students from schools that are improving on state tests generally have lower scores on the math and science parts of the ACT than students from declining schools. No significant gains were evident in other subject areas, either. Their work appeared in a paper published last month in the Journal of Research in Science Testing.

The researchers first looked at the issue because they were curious if a school's emphasis on English and math would hurt science performance. They concluded that the accountability push in those areas might be narrowing the curriculum and that more should be done to make sure all students are prepared for college and careers. They recommend exposing students to a more-integrated curriculum with more teacher collaboration across subjects.

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