LYNDON CENTER -- In what Headmaster Rick Hilton called "a calculated risk for the sake of our students," a Lyndon Institute commitment to curriculum-based national standards rather than the soon-to-be-defunct state standards has produced results for the LI Classes of 2011 and 2012. Both ACT and AP scores rose significantly this year after teachers and administrators committed to an ambitious program that included teacher training, the use of national standards and rubrics in core academic subjects, the expansion of AP course offerings, and even weekly "InstiTutor" practice tests developed for use by all freshmen, sophomores and juniors in English, math, reading, science and writing.
Just over 70 percent of the 84 LI students who took 143 advanced placement tests this year earned a 3 or better on the tests, which have traditionally earned college credit or advanced placement in college courses on the basis of the top three scores of 3, 4 and 5. In addition, seven LI students have been recognized as AP Scholars or AP Scholars with Honors. By comparison, just five years ago only 52 LI Students took 55 AP tests, earning 3 or better scores on half of them.
Lyndon Institute now offers 11 Advanced Placement courses approved by the College Board. This year's most popular tests at Lyndon Institute were Studio Art, English Language and Composition, English Literature and Composition, European History, United States History, Calculus AB and BC, Environmental Science, Physics B, Japanese, and Latin. In several subjects, all students scored a 3 or better: Art, English Language, European History, Physics and Japanese.
In ACT testing, the 140 juniors who took the test at LI on April 27 included the full spectrum of LI students, including those with special needs and multi-lingual backgrounds. Scores in core subject areas rose 6 percent in math and 4 percent in science. In combined English and writing, the increase was 4 percent. Taking all LI College Preparatory students as a separate group, the results showed that even in 11th grade, the average LI student met or exceeded the ACT College Readiness Benchmark:
Subject LI College Prep Average Score ACT "College Readiness" Benchmark
English -- 22.19: 18
Math -- 22.1: 22
Reading -- 20.78: 21
The test also showed that more than 80 percent of Lyndon Institute College Preparatory juniors met or exceeded the College Readiness Benchmark in English this spring. (According to ACT Manual, "ACT's College Readiness Benchmarks are the minimum ACT test scores required for students to have a high probability of success in credit-bearing college courses -- English Composition, social sciences courses, College Algebra, or Biology.")
Reviewing the scores, Hilton observed, "The improvement in math scores reflects our restructuring of our mathematics department. The new science sequence has just been implemented, and the scores n this area over the next two years will almost certainly show the same kind of improvement. We have excellent students and excellent teachers, so I am very confident that this positive trend will continue."
All Lyndon Institute juniors were given the opportunity to take the 11th-grade "ACT" test of career and college readiness, providing them with a useful credential for college admissions at no cost to them or their families. They had earlier been given the eighth-grade ACT "Explore" test and tenth-grade ACT "Plan" test as part of a program to aid CNSU sending schools in the transition of local students from elementary school to high school. Local students take the "Explore" tests during the second semester of eighth grade, using materials supplied by LI. Boarding and "out-of-district" day students take the ACT "Explore" test when they arrive on campus.
Once called "the West Coast SAT," the ACT is now accepted by even more colleges and universities than the SAT. It has been gaining in favor among northeastern teachers, administrators, and policymakers because it is based on curriculum, not just innate ability, making it a truer measure of what a student has actually learned. The new "Common Core" standards developed by the national associations of governors and commissioners of education are based in large part on the ACT standards, developed in Iowa City over the past 50 years by former SAT staff who broke away to develop a test that would be a teaching tool rather than a "filter" for college admissions.
"Good students in good programs tend to do especially well on the ACT, " said Hilton, who has worked as a prep-school college advisor and as a designer of the ISEE admissions test. "Test-prep companies tell us that a student can 'game' the SAT, but that you really cannot fake the ACT because it measures what you have actually learned."
Hilton said that LI administrators were not surprised to see both ACT and AP scores rising, because recent studies have shown that the curriculum-based ACT is a better predictor of AP success than other tests, even though the College Board in Princeton, N.J. produces the AP while American College Testing in Iowa City, Iowa, produces the ACT.
By contrast, Vermont has been producing its own state assessment, the NECAP, in cooperation with New Hampshire and Rhode Island. The NECAP, which has been criticized by the national Fordham Foundation as one of America's worst state assessments, is now slated for replacement over the next few years by a new test based on the Common Core national standards and developed by a large consortium of states, including Vermont.
Hilton has been an outspoken critic of the NECAP and its predecessor, the NSRE since national studies showed that the ACT actually raised the aspirations and achievement levels of students. "Since 2003 I have testified at least 20 times before the Department of Education, the State Board of Education, the House Education Committee, the Senate Education Committee, and other groups about the disservice Vermont has done to its students by using a homegrown test to prepare students for national and international competition for college admissions and employment. Devoting our resources to prepare students to succeed in national testing rather than the state test seemed a risky move at the time, but our students' successes and the collapse of the NECAP test have proven us right. The students are the real winners in all of this, as they should be."
LI juniors can use their ACT scores in applying to college. Lyndon Institute is currently the only school in Vermont that administers the ACT on a midweek, in-school testing date. Parents and students are not charged for this test.
"I am very, very proud of our students, their teachers, and our academic leaders. The dramatic improvement in test scores at LI just goes to show you what a good academic community can accomplish even when funds are limited. These scores are a testament to the talent and effort of our people, and it is people who matter most at LI."