Jack E. Singley Academy is a four-year, open-enrollment magnet school serving more than 1,700 students in the Irving, Texas, Independent School District. In addition to college-prep classes in core subjects, Singley Academy offers more than 30 “Signature Studies” programs in career and technical education (CTE) fields such as culinary arts, cosmetology, nursing, law enforcement and fire technology.
To support teaching and learning in both its college prep and CTE programs, Singley Academy’s library collection includes digital resources from TexQuest, a state-supported consortium that provides Texas K-12 public schools and open-enrollment charter schools with access to databases, e-books and other digital content.
Among these resources is PrepSTEP for High Schools, an online learning platform from EBSCO LearningExpress that includes practice tests, tutorials, e-books and other materials for academic skill-building, college and career exploration, college admissions test prep, occupational exam prep, military exploration and preparation, and workplace skills development. Since the PrepSTEP roll out earlier this year, nearly 500 students and teachers at Singley Academy have created user accounts.
Career Exploration and Preparation
According to Librarian Joe Pendleton, many of Singley Academy’s CTE programs require students to obtain career certification as part of their coursework. For example, students wishing to pursue a career in culinary arts must pass a food handling certification test. PrepSTEP for High Schools offers a Culinary Arts Practice Exam that tests students’ knowledge of basic culinary concepts, weights and measures, kitchen organization, plating principles and food safety.
Similarly, students who want to become emergency medical technicians (EMTs) must pass the National Registry EMT exam, for which PrepSTEP also offers two practice tests. Students will also find practice tests for licensure exams in the allied health fields, nursing, law enforcement and more.
In total, PrepSTEP includes 119 career certification practice exams, each of which allows students to choose a test mode: learner (which provides answers as they go to help them study), practice (which provides answer explanations once student has finished), and simulation (to replicate the actual timed test).
“PrepSTEP helps students prepare for those certification exams so that, when they graduate, they will already have a professional certification in the field they’ve been studying and can start in an entry-level position,” Pendleton said. “It gives our faculty the ability to communicate to students, ‘You’re not only walking off the stage with your high school diploma at graduation, but now you’re also a certified food handler or a certified firefighter; you’re certified to do a number of jobs.’”
Test Prep On-the-Go
To promote PrepSTEP among students, Pendleton placed a link on the library website and displayed QR codes beside printed test prep booklets so students would know they could also access the content on mobile devices. So far, the most popular among students are the practice tests for the STAAR (an assessment Texas students take in the spring), ACT®, SAT® and ASVAB.
“With PrepSTEP, I don’t have to worry about having multiple copies of all those resources in print on my shelf,” Pendleton said.
Recently, a couple of students planning to join the military were taking PrepSTEP’s ASVAB practice exams.
“They had never seen the format of the ASVAB,” Pendleton explained. “The practice test helped them understand how the test is structured and what type of questions would be asked. They appreciated being able to see what the test looks like.”
Other students mentioned to Pendleton that the practice tests helped them prepare for the ACT exam. “It lowered their anxiety level and gave them a good boost of confidence going into the exam,” he said.
Not only are students using the content, but also teachers are integrating PrepSTEP activities into their curricula.
After briefly presenting PrepSTEP to teachers at a faculty meeting, Pendleton said interest “went through the roof.” Teachers began inviting him to their classes to present PrepSTEP and encouraged their colleagues to do the same. One teacher assigned students the Skills Matcher and Interest Matcher quizzes, which help users identify which occupations match their skills, abilities and interests.
“The teachers immediately began to see the value of PrepSTEP,” Pendleton said. “The firefighting teacher stopped me in the hall last week to thank me for introducing PrepSTEP to the faculty. He didn’t know, and I certainly don’t know, of any other online materials that are as comprehensive or helpful to him with his students than what he found on PrepSTEP. I think a lot of our CTE teachers are really benefitting from what PrepSTEP brings to the table.”
In addition to college and career preparation resources, PrepSTEP for High Schools includes content designed to help students improve their skills in academic subjects such as reading, writing, math and computers.
Students can also take advantage of tutorials that teach organizational strategies, such as time management; personal success skills such as money management; and information literacy skills such as avoiding plagiarism and mastering social media.
“It’s really, really helpful stuff,” Pendleton said. “You might call it Adulting 101.”
He also noted that PrepSTEP’s U.S. citizenship exam preparation materials have been beneficial to a number of students and their parents.
“We have a lot of first-generation American students and many who have newly immigrated to the United States, so this was a very big deal for our demographic,” Pendleton said.
Our CTE teachers are really benefitting from what PrepSTEP brings to the table.
— Joe Pendleton, Librarian
Jack E. Singley Academy