Inquiry, Reflection, & The ACT Test

Last week I attended a data summit in order to prepare for the launch of a new school improvement plan. I arrived super jazzed to dig into our data and go through a process that focused on student improvement. That took place and we left with a plant, but my greatest light bulb moment was a connection I made while off on a tangent.

I work in a 6-12 school that has adopted the ACT test as one piece of our triangulated data. The majority of my work day is with middle school students who take MAP or STAR tests which provide a prediction / projection of how they will do on their future on their ACT tests. Therefore, I was not as familiar with the ACT College and Career Readiness Standards as others at the table.  As our conversations ensued, I began to wonder what the difference was between the various scores and off I went to conduct my own side research.

What I found was so obvious, but still, I felt a little “aha!” moment when I recognized that, while the ACT is typically considered a content test; it still focuses heavily on critical thinking skills. Maybe it was more of a “well duh” moment, but it immediately reinforced my passion for inquiry-based learning.  

For example, inquiry-based learning is more concerned with the learning processes and with the product of learning. In other words, the emphasis is on learning how to learn rather than completion of a worksheet or perfect score on a quiz.  In my classroom, where student work on analyzing a text, I am more interested in teaching them how to do that then I am in what text they choose to work with. In theory, I have little control over what text they will see on the ACT, but it won’t necessarily matter if they are capable of doing high-level analysis on a high-level text.

            The ACT test is not the be all –end all focus for educational data, but it has been cited as a reason for “why not.” There is nervousness, especially as students move into secondary education that if teachers don’t control the learning that takes place in school something will be missed leaving a critical gap in students’ education. This mindset keeps us in an, “I taught it, it’s up to the students to learn it” rut as it risks student engagement in order to ensure content coverage.  The fear that prevents us from handing learning over to the students also limits the students from understanding how to use or think about what they are learning.

            After a week of reflection, I am left with an inquiry challenge of my own… “How can we support content and inquiry as not mutually exclusive, but rather parts of the same goal?” With a new question, my mind fills with more questions and more tangents to explore…. as the answer it seems will be in keeping the two integrated and in balance thus ensuring that one does not receive the emphasis at the other’s expense.