The Big Eleven

Not all the lights were on when Community High’s juniors entered the building on Wednesday, Oct. 17. While the freshmen, sophomores, and seniors would be sleeping in for another few hours, CHS juniors were filing into the building twenty minutes earlier than on a regular school day. The juniors would spend the next two hours taking the PSAT, a standardized test administered to prepare juniors for the tests that count. While this pretest won’t be reported to colleges, the PSAT is a pivotal point in a student’s high school career: it marks the change from lowerclassmen to upperclassmen, a time of greater responsibility and decision-making.

Craig Levin, a math teacher at CHS, believes that there is a lot of stigma surrounding junior year.

“I think that there’s this consensus that you hear, ‘Oh junior year is going to suck,’ or whatever, from everywhere,” said Levin.

Levin, who often teaches the same students at several points in their high school career, believes that most Community students develop better school habits with time.

“I notice an enormous leap, across the board, in maturity level towards academics. I think that most students learn to step up or step off by junior year,” he said.

Savannah Thomas, a Skyline junior who split-enrolls at CHS to take the seventh block social justice class, is already feeling the pressure weighing down on her to perform well in school.

“Junior year is pretty stressful,” said Thomas. “There are a lot of tests,

preparing for the ACT, the SAT, and subject tests. It can be pretty frustrating.”
Thomas, who spends most of her time at Skyline, has noticed a significant increase in her workload.

“It really sucks when teachers give us loads of homework with no real regard to the amount of tests that we have,” Thomas said. “But I guess they have to follow state rules and such.”

Similarly, Nick Partin, a junior at CHS, recognizes a steady increase in his workload, which at times, has been detrimental to his health.

“[More schoolwork] has caused my sleeping habits to change,” said Partin. “I’ve been staying up a little later than when I normally go to sleep.”

Partin has sensed a positive change in teaching style as the major tests approach.

“I feel like some teachers are trying to teach in different ways,” said Partin. “A lot of teachers are teaching alternative methods to solve a problem, or how to eliminate certain multiple choice options without doing a lot of work.”

Levin believes that higher-level classes must be taught differently to ensure that students are properly adjusting to the greater expectations set for them, especially with the high-stakes tests just around the corner.

“I think that my class is way harder than an equivalent class for sophomores,” said Levin. “There’s a different expectation in the seriousness of the class.”

Galen Burrell, a CHS senior, said that his junior year was dominated by studying for standardized tests.

“I definitely dedicated more time to the ACT study than I did to normal [schoolwork],” said Burrell.

Burrell, who plans on taking the test again, believes that the key to success on standardized tests is lots and lots of preparation.

“Start studying,” Burrell said. “Immediately. If you haven’t started studying, do it. Do a couple practice [tests]. It definitely pays to practice.”

Thomas, who will be taking the ACT for the first time in the spring, started studying early to ensure that she will be prepared.

“I’ve been doing a lot of prep since last year,” Thomas said. “Last year was easy group prep, but now I’m starting to get more specific, especially into the math and science part of it, because I struggle with that. I can definitely feel that it’s starting to be crunch time.”

Many other students opt to take the same route as Thomas and take preparatory classes as well. Students’ desire for better scores led to the creation of many preparatory companies. Kaplan Test Prep, one of the largest preparatory companies in the United States, offers many different courses, all claiming to raise a customer’s overall score. According to a former employee, Kaplan makes about $2.5 billion annually from students hoping to reach a higher level of achievement. While Thomas realizes that the effectiveness of test prep centers is called into question by some, she recommends them to all students who fear the high-stakes standardized tests.

“[The classes] were helpful in the sense that they exposed me to the ACT,” she said.

Levin, whose own high school experience was strikingly different from CHS, believes that the atmosphere at Community really equips students to excel on standardized tests.

“A lot of the things we do here prepare kids to be independent learners. I think my focus is to create or promote individual learning and kids feeling like they are skilled and not waiting all the time for the teacher to come in and give them the answers.”