Eighth-graders testy? ‘There is a lot riding on this’
BY SUSAN DEMAR LAFFERTY firstname.lastname@example.org January 10, 2013 5:10PM
Chiedu Okonmah (center) and other eighth-graders prepare for Catholic high school entrance exams and public school placement tests during a mathematics review with teacher Jay Hoppie at St. Joseph School in Homewood. | Brett Roseman~Sun-Times Media
Updated: February 12, 2013 2:35PM
The dry-erase board in Jay Hoppie’s classroom was filled with mathematical formulas — the area of a rectangle (length times width), a triangle (base times height times one-half) and the circumference of a circle (diameter times pi).
“Review these formulas. They will probably be on the test,” Hoppie told his very focused eighth-graders at St. Joseph School in Homewood.
The test to which Hoppie referred is THE test for eighth-graders seeking a Catholic high school education. It’s the Catholic schools’ entrance exam, being given at 8 a.m. Saturday. For these students, it is the equivalent of the ACT for high school juniors.
According to the Archdiocese of Chicago, 8,700 eighth-graders armed with No. 2 pencils will take the test at one of its 38 high schools, of which nearly a dozen are in the Southland.
Those numbers have been steady over the past few years, and having everyone take the test on the same day at his or her school of choice eliminates “shopping around” and forces students to make a decision, Archdiocese schools Supt. Sister Mary Paul said.
In recent weeks, eighth-graders have boned up on test-taking strategies, pored over sample tests, reviewed lessons and took test prep classes, such as the one at St. Joseph.
“They have to do well to get into the school of their choice,” St. Joseph Principal Thomas Kozak said. “There is a lot riding on this. This labels the track they will be on in high school.”
Eager to get into the school and classes of their choice, many students admitted they are nervous about this test — the toughest one yet in their young lives.
Summer Reyes, a St. Joseph student from Olympia Fields, plans to get a good night’s sleep, arrive early for the test, remain calm, skip over problems she can’t answer and return to them later.
“I really need to manage my time,” the straight-A student said.
She knows this test will be harder than others she has taken as she competes for a seat in Marian Catholic High School’s next freshman class. The Chicago Heights school does not accept all students who take the test, recruitment director Sister Dorothy Marie said.
While some schools use the tests for admissions, most, including Providence Catholic in New Lenox and St. Laurence in Burbank, use it to place students in the appropriate classes. They also rely on previous test scores, grades and teacher recommendations.
For students, the test is significant for many reasons.
Stefanie Luthin, of Cardinal Joseph Bernardin School in Orland Hills, said it’s important to have a Catholic school education “so that God is in my life every day.”
“It’s a big decision that can make an impact on my life,” said Stefanie, who hopes to attend St. Ignatius College Prep in Chicago.
Many, such as St. Michael School student Dennis McCarthy, of Orland Park, want to get into honors and advanced placement classes in high school to earn college credit.
“I’m looking ahead to the future. It is all going to matter,” said McCarthy, who is excited about his prospects at St. Laurence.
Tom Farrell, of St. Daniel in Chicago, hopes to get a 94 on the test to qualify for a tuition break at St. Laurence.
“I hope it’s not as hard as I expect,” he said.
“High school is the steppingstone to your future,” said Danielle O’Connell, a Cardinal Joseph Bernardin School eighth-grader with sights on Benet Academy in Lisle. “I want to get into a good school. It’s so crucial for my future.”
That makes this entrance exam “more stressful” and “more challenging,” she said.
Problems and prepping
Over the course of two to three hours, students will demonstrate their knowledge on prime numbers, square roots, exponents, grammar, reading comprehension and science.
According to the Archdiocese, schools use the High School Placement Test, or the Explorer or Terra Nova tests, which differ in the type of information they provide for course placement.
Grade schools worked to prepare students for the exam, but too much emphasis on the test or test preparation may increase anxiety and lower test scores, according to the archdiocese.
Some students feel confident, yet cautious.
“Overall, CJB has really prepared me for this test. Our curriculum is topnotch,” Richie Warfield said. “I feel pretty confident.”
“I don’t like tests, but I’m not afraid of them,” said his classmate, Mark Cachey, of Tinley Park.
Providence Catholic High School Principal Don Sebestyen said the New Lenox school tries to create a relaxed environment for the young test takers.
“We know they are coming into a foreign environment, where they are not familiar with the teachers. That can add to the tension,” he said. “We try to make it feel like home.”
They provide free refreshments upon check-in, and snacks during a break, halfway through the testing, he said.
“The best preparation for the test is to get a good night’s sleep and come as relaxed as possible,” Sebestyen said.
The test is important, said Paul, of the archdiocese, “but it’s not everything. Character and hard work are important, too.”
Not all 8,700 test takers will enroll in a Catholic high school. Circumstances and finances change, and some students may not get into their first-choice school.
“There is a school for every student in the archdiocese,” Paul said.
Schools are finding more ways to help families financially and students will get a second chance to apply to another high school.
“We try to make sure every kid has one acceptance,” Paul said.
Acceptance letters will be mailed out Feb. 15. This next month, a hectic one for high school admissions staffs, may also be more nerve-racking than the test for eighth-graders eager to hear how they did.
St. Joseph student Chiedu Okonmah, a bit concerned about math, joined Hoppie’s prep class. He isn’t usually nervous about tests, but said there was a “little extra pressure” with this one. He wants to get accepted by Marian Catholic.
And until that letter arrives after Feb. 15?
“I’ll be praying,” he said.