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Kingston leads area in ACT improvement
 
by Jon Dohrer
Kingston Public Schools
 
KINGSTON — A new report serves as the latest indication that academics are on the rise at Kingston Public Schools.
In recent weeks, various news media have run stories about the ACT test, the primary examination administered to college-bound students in Oklahoma, and most neighboring states. A list of test results for 17 area schools, including Kingston, over the last six years shows that Kingston's scores are by far the most improved among the schools named, with a 13.3 percent increase over its 2007 scores.
Kingston's collective composite score of 20.4 in 2012 ranked third among the 17 area schools, behind only Durant at 21.4, and Tishomingo's slightly better 20.6.
Few who have been following area academic news lately would be surprised at the results. End-of-instruction examination scores, School Report Cards and individual achievements all contribute to the conclusion that Kingston students are performing better and better in general.
Superintendent Jay McAdams said the ACT news simply supports that notion.
"It's more evidence of what we already knew: our kids are doing better in the classroom," McAdams said. "They are learning the subject matter more thoroughly, so it's natural that they would perform well on tests."
 
High standards
McAdams is quick to point to the work of the students, parents, faculty and staff at all levels at KPS as being among the primary reasons for the surge in ACT scores. He said an atmosphere of high standards has been cultivated at all the campuses, and those expectations continue to rise with each positive report.
High School Principal Brenda Foster also had ample praise for everyone involved in bringing up the test results. She said the quality of instruction at Kingston is an asset for the district.
"I think Kingston high school is blessed to have outstanding teachers, and It takes outstanding teachers to make anything happen," Foster said. "These results show the excellent job they're doing."
Kingston's average composite score in 2007 was 18, and has climbed more than two points since then. The biggest jumps have occurred in the last two years. In 2011, the composite rose a full point from 18.4 to 19.4. in 2012, it jumped another point to 20.4.
The other schools listed in the study were Achille, Atoka, Bennington, Caddo, Calera, Caney, Coalgate, Colbert, Durant, Madill, Rock Creek, Silo, Tishomingo, Tushka, Tupelo and Wapanucka.
 
Culture shift
Kelly Stottlemyre has taught 13 years at Kingston High School, and she said she has seen the culture change during that time.
 "Part of it is simply that in every class, we've raised the expectations, and the students continue to put in the work and effort to meet those expectations," Stottlemyre said.
She said when she began, a smaller percentage of students thought they might continue their studies after high school. Now, an overwhelming majority of students want and expect to further their education.
"It's making kids believe that they can and should go to college — we expect you to go to college," Stottlemyre said.
Foster said ultimately, the credit belongs to the students who roll up their sleeves and do the work necessary to achieve the desired results.
"We have excellent students," Foster said. "They work hard to pass the EOI tests and score well on the ACT, and they know the importance of both."
 
Programs making a difference
While the general improvement in scholastic performance and higher expectations have contributed to the students' success on the ACT, there have been some steps taken specifically to raise scores. One is the implementation of an ACT preparation course, instructed by Stottlemyre. The students study all the subject areas, as well as test-taking strategies, and it helps the youngsters become more comfortable with the testing format.
"It gives them a chance to practice the methods that help them master that test, and it gives them an opportunity to become more aware of the structure of the test," Stottlemyre said.
Foster said the fact that Stottlemyre is the instructor is another reason the class is achieving results.
"We're fortunate to have that class taught by someone who is certified to teach math and science, which are two of the main areas," the principal said.
Another program in place at the middle school and high school is remediation, designed to prevent students from falling too far behind their grade levels. 
 
GEAR UP
Foster said the district's participation in GEAR UP Oklahoma is also having an impact, and may stand to help students continue to improve, not just in testing, but in preparation for college in general.
Gaining Education Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs is a federal and state project designed to ensure that students are prepared for success at the next level of instruction. The plan helps with scholarship funding, as well as early intervention so students see attending college as an achievable goal. Foster said GEAR UP has also provided funding for additional instructional materials.
The number of students who participate in the school's concurrent enrollment program is also cited as a likely contributor to the improved ACT scores. Many Kingston students take college courses online through area higher learning institutions, including Southeastern Oklahoma State University, Murray State College and East Central University.
Foster said the school makes it easier for juniors to take college courses, which is almost certainly helping their ACT performance.
 
Behind the scenes
The principal also cited the work of school counselor Kenni Lane and curriculum specialist Paula Oliver as instrumental to the students' success. Foster said Lane works hard with the students to help them set and attain their goals.
"If they want to go to college, she'll help them find a way," Foster said. "She is just an excellent counselor."
Oliver works with teachers each week to help them plan a curriculum that helps students meet PASS objectives, and is helping instructors transition into teaching toward the coming Common Core Curriculum program. Working in that role, Oliver said she has gained an appreciation for Kingston teachers.
"Kingston schools are blessed with some master, master teachers who are dedicated to the students' success," Oliver said. "They are a very good bunch of teachers."
 
We're not done yet
McAdams said Kingston educators are pleased with the scores, but are driven to keep improving.
"We want to see those numbers keep climbing," McAdams said. "We want our students to have every opportunity for success at the next level."