Most northern Panhandle juniors appear to have scored well on the ACT as part of the state’s move toward using the college entry test as its statewide assessment for juniors.
The Nebraska Department of Education released results to the schools earlier this month but is only now releasing the data to the public. Most high schools in Dawes, Sheridan and Sioux county exceeded the statewide average scores in two or more content areas.
Under the new system, students are ranked as either developing, on track or at ACT benchmark. Developing students likely need additional courses before they would be able to access credit-bearing courses at Nebraska colleges. On track students are approaching college readiness and may be able to take college level courses without remediation at some institutions. Meeting the ACT benchmark means a student is equipped to succeed in first-year college classes and have a 50 percent chance of earning a B or better.
To be considered proficient, a student must earn an ACT score that puts them in the on track or ACT benchmark rankings.
Statewide, Nebraska juniors scored an average of 17.8 in English/language arts, and 19 in both math and science. Fifty-two percent of juniors across the state are considered proficient in English, while those percentages are 50 and 54 for math and science.
Chadron juniors outperformed the state in all three content areas by two points on the assessment’s 36-point scale. The district’s average scores were 19.9 in English, 21.7 in math and 21.1 in science. Sixty-seven percent of the juniors are considered proficient in both English and science, while 75 percent rank that way in math. The composite average for CHS juniors was 20.9, compared to 19.3 for the state, and more than half are proficient in both English and math.
Chadron High Principal Jerry Mack said even with all of the changes that have taken place in statewide assessments over the years, the ACT scores show that Chadron students continue to perform well. Looking at data from 12 other Panhandle schools that are large enough to have their ACT results released publicly, Chadron still is among the best. According to Mack’s blog on the CHS website, Chadron outranks those 12 schools in math and is at or near the top in English and science.
Depsite an Associated Press report that says less than a third of Nebraska’s juniors are ready for first year college courses, Mack isn’t discouraged by the data. Nationally, only 64 percent of students choose to take the ACT and only 26 percent meet the ACT benchmarks in all subjects. For nearly a third of Nebraska’s juniors, who still have a year of high school left, to meet those marks is a positive thing in Mack’s eyes.
At Hay Springs, juniors also exceeded statewide scores in all three content areas, scoring an average of 19.5 in English, 19.6 in math and 20.6 in science. The district’s percentage of students who are considered proficient are masked due to small class sizes.
Crawford juniors performed best in math and science, scoring an average 19.5 in each subject to exceed the statewide average. Fifty-seven percent of the school’s students are proficient in science, while 52 percent rank that way in math. Twenty-nine percent of the district’s juniors are considered proficient in every subject.
Crawford High School Principal Chris Geary was pleased to see the district outperformed the state in two of the three content areas, noting that going forward the school will need to work on aligning its curriculum, especially in English, with the ACT. That’s a move he believes the state must look at in terms of statewide standards, too.
“It’s important as we move forward that we examine the fidelity between the state standards and the ACT test,” he said. “I’m eager for that.”
Crawford juniors were behind the curve in English, trailing the statewide average by a point, with 48 percent of them considered proficient in the subject. Geary said a significant portion of the ACT test deals with grammar, a topic that isn’t necessarily as prominent in Nebraska’s curriculum standards.
Overall, the move to the ACT for junior assessments is one Geary is positive about.
“I think there may be some students for whom the ACT doesn’t fit for an assessment, but overall I’m happy about the ACT. In my opinion its better than the former test, so I think we’re making steps in the right direction,” he said, pointing out that the juniors who took the test in April scored higher than the seniors who graduated in May.
Still, caution is required, he added. Small schools across the state, including those in the northern Panhandle, are testing a small sample size of students.
“We need to be cautious when interpreting these scores because one score can really impact these averages in small schools,” Geary said.
Sioux County’s scores and proficiency percentages are masked due to small class sizes, but Superintendent Dr. Brett Gies said he’s pleased with the results, even though he can’t share them publicly.
“I’m confident that our students are well prepared for college,” he said. “They are all on target to do well.”
Gies is another administrator in favor of the move to the ACT for assessing students. Students headed to college have to take the test anyway, and the district’s standards and teaching are already aligned to the ACT. In general, the district’s students who have taken the ACT on their own in previous years have scored higher than state averages, Gies said.
Gordon-Rushville fell behind the curve in two content areas and just beat the statewide average in the third. Juniors there scored an average of 17.9 in English, 18.7 in math and 18.2 in science. Fifty-five percent of the district’s students are considered proficient in English, while 49 percent are proficient in math and 53 percent in science.
Four of the five regional schools had 100 percent participation rate. Gordon-Rushville is the only school that did not test every junior in the district; the school tested 98 percent.
For more information on statewide assessments, including the ACT and NeSA tests, visit nep.education.ne.gov.