Austin students score higher on ACT’s; Composite score rises by .7 compared to 2016

Published 8:14 am Monday, September 18, 2017

Austin High School students scored higher on the 2017 round of ACT testing than they did in 2016, bringing in a composite score of 19.7, compared to 19.0 a year ago.

Although the composite score was under the state average of 21.5, John Alberts, executive director of educational services, said the district was happy with the gain, that included higher scores in every category in the test — English, science, math and reading — as well. A total of 262 students took the test.

ACT provides a measure of skills needed for success in the first year of college. Tests are administered to every junior who wishes to take it at high school. The district pays for the initial round; some students elect to retake the test in order to increase their score.

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Scores are used by most Midwest colleges as part of their entrance requirements. The 2017 score reflects the testing of students who graduated last spring. The highest score, based on a 36-point score, was 33.

“We are very happy” with the uptick in the composite, which has generally hovered between 19 and 20 over the past five years, Alberts said, although more students are taking the test today than in 2013.

The biggest advance came in English, where students went from a score of 17.1 a year ago to 18 this year; and in reading, where students scored 20.4, compared to 19.5 in 2016.

Results, though, trigger more than just a test score for students; district personnel use the information as one more way to evaluate “how the school is delivering what our students need,” Alberts said.

Officials study the range of scores, from highest to lowest, to detect changes and patterns.

“Overall, we’ve found we’ve been fairly consistent in our scores (over the years), when you look farther into the details” given as a part of ACT results, he said.

That includes a breakdown of students taking more advanced work, or Advanced Placement classes, compared to students who take more general courses. ACT results show, as educators know, the “more rigorous the coursework, the better the scores,” Alberts said.

For instance, Austin students who took higher level math or science courses always exceeded the state average — at times, significantly. Looked at another way, the top 10 percent of the school’s scores had a composite score of almost 30; the top 20 percent, 27.8; top 30 percent, 26.3.

While the lesson is not only that rigor is good, it also signals the ongoing need to identify students “who also have the potential to take some of our higher level courses. but don’t, for a variety of reasons,” he said.

Some might be first-generation students who may not even be aware of the courses. Or, they may lack support from parents who may also be unfamiliar with such classes. APS has a highly diverse student population, where language might also be a challenge.

There are programs that provide help, such as AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) for students who score just below advanced placement levels; and an ongoing commitment by staff to provide the help needed so students are successful, Alberts said.

There will always be high and low-scoring students — and Alberts said, “and we know that students show potential and ability at different phases of life.”

Still, he said, “We will continue to work to provide for all of our students, to help them find their path, coming out of high school.”