There's no secret formula to explain the success juniors at Jacobs High School in Algonquin achieved in a statewide mathematics assessment.
The high school jumped 9.3 percentage points compared to the previous year in the number of students who met or exceeded state standards in 11th-grade math, according to 2011 school report card data released today.
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Of the 527 juniors at the high school last year, 53.4 percent met and 12.2 percent exceeded the state standards in the Prairie State Achievement Exam, or PSAE.
That increase put Jacobs High School second in terms of improvement among high schools in the Daily Herald coverage area. Lakes Community High School in Lake Villa improved by more than 13 percentage points, data shows.
As a whole, Carpentersville-area Community Unit Community Unit District 300, in which Jacobs is located, saw a 5 percentage point increase.
Teachers, students and administrators at Jacobs say the basis for the rise was simple: practice.
"We are trying to assess areas and use the vocabulary that students need to know to be successful," said Steven Shadel, mathematics department head at Jacobs. "Teachers have spent professional development time developing a curriculum to promote career and college readiness."
That readiness is essentially what standardized tests like the ACT and Prairie State Achievement Exam are measuring, Shadel said.
In the past four years, the department has focused on providing an environment that hones students' test-taking and critical-thinking skills.
"The way we word things, the questions we are asking and having students answer are higher-level thinking questions," said Alex Lepkowski, who teaches sophomore and junior mathematics. "They require critical-thinking skills."
In addition, Brittany Hoskins, who teaches sophomore and junior year Algebra II, said repetition and exposure to questions that require students to think outside the box are essential. Hoskins said each class begins with an ACT warm-up.
"In Algebra II we start the day with ACT-like questions so that they are familiar with the wording," Hoskins said. "Then on every test there are 10 ACT questions. It makes it easier for them when they are used to the wording and seeing those types of questions."
Students said the battery of practice questions and review sessions made testing day less daunting.
"I felt prepared for it," said Marissa Blanchard, a 17-year-old senior from Algonquin. "We were exposed to the questions that we would see on the test, and that helped."
Other Kane County high schools that ranked in the top 10 in math included Burlington Central High School, which ranked a spot below Jacobs, and South Elgin High School.
Burlington Central increased from 66.5 percent in 2010 to 75.1 percent this year, while South Elgin, an Elgin Area District U-46 school, increased 6.2 percentage points over the previous year to 60.1 percent.