St. Francis Borgia Regional High School officials implemented a new skill assessment this fall called The First Lap.

Early in November, students were invited to participate in a 3 1/2-hour study session to prepare for the tests. During this time, teens could get help from their teachers and peer tutors, meet in study groups or complete study guides.

The event was designed to identify learning deficiencies on skills that are especially important in each course, said Kevin Mabie, principal.

“The goal was to catch any issues before final exams in December,” Mabie said. “This was something new and we didn’t know what to expect, but we had over 200 students turn out. To get that many kids to stay after school for three hours in mid-November for anything is pretty amazing, and for a study session, it was impressive.”

The students were treated to pizza and study snacks while they worked.

“After the tests were complete, there was a lot we could learn from the results,” Mabie said.

For example, he said, the results showed 90 percent of the English I students have a solid understanding of grammar and mechanics.

Other findings: 97 percent of geometry students can use the properties of triangles to set up and solve problems, and 91 percent of sophomores know how scientific and technological changes led to the Industrial Revolution.

“In these situations, where just a sampling of students were unable to demonstrate a solid understanding of these skills, teachers and peer tutors have been asked to work one-on-one with students who need to improve understanding prior to the end of the semester,” Mabie said.

“However, some teachers will use results like these to improve student understanding even further. For instance, of the 90 percent of our English I students who have demonstrated a solid understanding of grammar and mechanics, only 15 percent of these students have truly mastered that skill,” he said. “So, we recognize that there is still work to be done there.”

Officials also found that with some concepts, especially those taught early in the semester, students were a little weak and could benefit from a refresher.

“For instance, 65 percent of our Biology I students have a solid understanding of the Scientific Method,” Mabie said. “This is one of the most important concepts we teach, so we will strive to make that number higher.

“Similarly, we learned that 61 percent of our freshmen can identify the process from which the Bible came to be in its present form. We want this number to be higher, and will strive to get it there.”

Mabie said the First Lap study session was so successful that the school hosted a Final Lap study session in mid-December prior to final exams.

“All of the skills assessed on the First Lap tests were assessed again on final exams, and so far, from looking at preliminary results, we saw a lot of good growth,” he said. “We had a smaller turnout than the first study session, about 100-125 students, which is still very good.”

Mabie explained that The First Lap name was chosen because officials want students to look at final exams similar to the way they may look at an 800-meter race on the track (which is two laps).

“In a perfect world, if I was struggling my first lap around the track, I would be able to get some advice and words of encouragement from my coach before I began my second and final lap,” he said. “While we cannot make this perfect world part of our track meets, we can make it part of learning.

“And we are giving advice and encouragement to learners who struggled,” he said, “which hopefully made their final laps better as a result.”

Mabie said he utilized the same concept when he was assistant principal at St. Dominic High School in O’Fallon.

“We had good results there too,” he said, adding the study sessions and assessments will continue next semester at Borgia.

“It was extra work for the teachers, but when they saw the number of students who showed up for the study sessions and the data we got from the tests, it was very valuable,” he said.