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Cooperative Extension seeks to boost test scores for ag students

AMANDA SEBASTIANO
Staff Writer

The Poultry Science Department staff at N.C. State University (NCSU) wanted to know why some high school students in rural communities pursuing degrees in agriculture or life sciences were having a difficult time getting into four-year universities.
The answer turned out to be ACT and SAT scores.
After doing their homework, the staff at NCSU found that of the main criteria for college acceptance, those students who weren’t admitted were lacking in their performance on crucial college-entrance exams. High grade-point averages (GPAs), hours of extracurricular activities and boastful letters of recommendation weren’t enough. College admissions boards want to see higher test scores.
In response to their discovery, ACT preparatory courses will be offered in Lincoln County and across the state, to areas that fall within the income requirements. Lincoln falls in the tier two, of three, category, county Cooperative Extension Agent of 4-H and Youth Development April Dillon said, making it an eligible location based on residents’ finances.
Dillon will be instructing the two courses that kick off in January, along with home educator and 4-H volunteer Kristi Johnsen — a program neither Dillon nor her Cooperative Extension branch has taken on before.
The course, named Aspire (to higher education), will last 10 weeks, over which students will take the ACT four times. The remainder of the time will be focused on obtaining skills that will help students do as well as they can on the examination.
“Some kids just aren’t test-takers,” Dillon told the Times-News on Tuesday. “We’ll show them how to use their time wisely, to skip and come back and that they won’t get penalized for wrong answers, as they do in the SATs. Just having the knowledge of how to do math and science problems isn’t enough for this test.”
No power point presentations will be used in her course, she promised, as she and Johnsen find ways to keep the learning interactive; not a class where students can just sit back and take notes, she said.
The teach-back system, where students must prove their understanding of concepts, will be another way Dillon assesses how students progress.
Her goals for her students to accomplish in the course are seeing improvements in the participants’ scores, and instilling a sense of confidence to make them more at ease with taking the test. As she thought back to her training that wrapped up last week, Dillon joked that she crammed four years of high school into three days, in order to be qualified to teach the course.
Though NCSU will favor admittance into the Princeton Review course, which can cost more than $1,000 normally, to those who are pursuing degrees in agriculture or a related field, no child will be turned away if there are still open slots to fill.
Chief Administrator of Lincoln Charter Schools Dave Machado is excited for the opportunity for LCS-Denver to be one of the host centers for the course. The Citizen’s Center in Lincolnton will also host a class.
“This is just another vehicle to prepare students the best we can,” Machado said.
LCS doesn’t currently offer any other type of ACT preparation, but with the state and universities putting more of a focus on ACT scores, Machado was more than willing to offer his school as a testing site. Though Lincoln Charter will play host to Dillon and her class, all county students are welcome to apply on the NCSU website.
The cost is $150, $100 of which is refundable to those who attend every class and take all four tests.
Lincoln Charter will start offering the course from 11 a.m. to noon on Jan.7, and the Citizens Center will hold its class from 5 to 7 p.m. that Monday, too. LCS will hold the class three days a week, Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, while the Citizens Center will offer it for two-hour increments on Mondays and Wednesdays.
The registration deadline is Dec. 15, followed by a meeting Jan. 5 where a four-hour diagnostic examination will be given to see what level the students are on when starting the preparatory course.
Twenty-five is the maximum number of spots open for each site. Those interested may apply online at www. harvest.cals.ncsu.edu/aspire or can print out and mail in applications.
Certain requirements abide, such as an unweighted GPA of at least 3.2. Other factors that will be considered are available on the above site.
“Even if a student has a strong ACT score, bumping it up those few extra points may be the difference between getting accepted into a community college or getting into that four-year university,” Dillon said.

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