District turns up college prep heat in response to ACT scores

ST. GEORGE – The Washington County School District recently released average composite ACT scores for students of the 2014 graduating class who chose to take the college readiness exam. Scores show the district making small gains in points over the last three years and keeping up with both state and national averages – but composite scores don’t show the entire picture of college readiness. With that in mind, the district has offered tips as well as programs to both increase ACT scores and prepare students for higher education.

Nationally, more than 1.8 million graduating seniors took the ACT test, with just over 35,000 of those hailing from Utah and 1,372 – approximately 74 percent of the graduating class – coming from Washington County School District.

The ACT, according to a press release from Washington County School District, is a “curriculum and standards based educational and career planning tool that assesses the students’ academic readiness for college.”

The test is a four-part, multiple-choice exam in the core subjects of English, mathematics, reading and science. The four test scores are then combined into a composite score on a scale of one through 36.

In 2014, the average national score was 21, with the Washington County School District just shy at an average of 20.9 and state averages slightly lower at 20.8. Additionally, over the past three years, students in the district have seen steady, though small, growth posting average scores of 20.6 in 2012, 20.8 in 2013 and 20.9 this year.

“I think we are on the right track,” Brad Ferguson, director of assessment and research for Washington County School District, said. “We are edging up by tenths. We are right there nationally, and we are slightly ahead of the state.”

While the steady growth pleases district officials, the composite scores don’t tell the entire story.

According to the press release, College Board – the company that administers the ACT exam – has, through years of research and feedback from colleges and universities, calculated benchmark scores for each of the four sub-test areas to “indicate a 75 percent probability of obtaining a ‘C’ or better in the corresponding college courses.”

Additional data released by the district shows the percentage of graduating students who took the test that met the minimum benchmark score in each college subject area.

From the national all the way to the district level, less than 50 percent of students received the necessary scores to pass a college-level class in algebra, social sciences and biology. In English composition, students fared better with 65 percent of graduating district students reaching the benchmark – indicating they would likely pass a college class in that subject.

These are numbers that bother us,” Ferguson said. “Not all our students are leaving high school ready to pass a college class and we need to address that. We want to give them better than a 50-50 chance.”

Ferguson said the district plans to address that discrepancy in several ways, including increasing rigor in the classroom, offering preparatory tests beginning in 9th grade, and culminating with a new program in which all high school juniors in the district take the ACT exam.

Increased rigor

The district has laid out its recommendations for increasing students’ classroom rigor this way:

Experience has shown that students who take a more rigorous schedule of courses during high school score higher on the ACT and are better prepared for college courses. A rigorous schedule of courses includes four years of English beginning in 9th grade and at least three years of math, social studies and natural science courses.

Ferguson also emphasized that if a student is serious about making ACT point gains and being college bound, they really ought to be taking four years of math and science and consider taking as many advanced placement or concurrent enrollment classes as possible.

He also encourages all students to sit down and strategize with a counselor as they create their school schedules.

“It stands to reason that more rigor equals better scores,” Ferguson said.

Preparatory programs

There are several ACT preparatory classes that are available to students. Shmoop is a free online preparatory program that students can access by getting a code from their school counselor, Ferguson said, and some schools offer classes either in the morning or during lunch.

Students can also participate in a paid program, such as Kaplan, should they so choose.

The district has additionally implemented ACT preparation assessment tests that are given along with interest surveys starting in 9th grade. Students will take the EXPLORE test in 9th grade and the PLAN test in 10th grade. Test scores will be given to the students as well as to the school counselors and will help them track career aspirations and aptitudes and match those with the students’ scores to see where they are measuring up and where there might be gaps, Ferguson said.

Perhaps the biggest change in the district as far as the ACT is concerned is that now all students in 11th grade will take the exam – in the past it was optional.

All these assessments will also be free of charge to the students.

Ferguson said the district hopes these assessments, and particularly administering the ACT to all high school juniors, will help students – especially those who might not have taken the test on their own or even seen themselves as college material – to be inspired.

Students not happy with their ACT scores can, of their own volition and at their own cost, take the test again and, Ferguson said, most students who see themselves as college bound will take it at least twice.

Resources

  • For more information about Washington County School District visit their website
  • More information about the ACT can be found here

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Twitter: @STGnews

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