It’s a rite of passage for high school seniors across the country.
The ACT test assesses high school students’ general educational development and their ability to complete college-level work.
Multiple choice tests cover four skill areas — English, mathematics, reading, and science.
An optional writing test measures skills in planning and writing a short essay.
Recently, scores were released for students from the five high schools in Marion County who took the test for the 2008 graduating year.
How did they compare with the state and national averages?
The state’s composite average of the four subjects is 22. The national composite average is 21.1
Here is how the five schools did.
USD 410 Hillsboro had the highest composite score of 24.6 but it also had the most students taking the test at 52.
USD 411 Goessel had only 23 students taking the test but had a composite score of 22, matching the state’s average.
USD 408 Marion-Florence had a composite score of 21.4 for 30 students, USD 398 Peabody-Burns had 18 students taking the test with a composite score of 21.1, and USD 397 Centre had a composite score of 20.6 with 24 students taking the test.
During the research of this story, it was determined that there were multiple variables. There were a few sophomores, some juniors, and the majority of seniors taking the test. Students can take the test as many times as they want during their high school career. There were varying numbers of test-takers.
In the end, it seemed to be somewhat unfair to compare school districts because of the varying number of students taking the tests.
However, what benchmarks do the individual school districts strive to achieve?
According to Katie Pankratz, counselor at USD 398, Peabody-Burns High School has a two-tiered curriculum that determines which students take the ACT test.
There is one tier for college-bound students and one tier for students leaning toward vocational education or joining the work force right after high school.
Working toward the ACT test begins years before the student actually takes it. When Pankratz enrolls students in the spring of their eighth grade year, she gives them a brochure that includes the Kansas Board of Regents requirements for college admission.
She and the students review classes available at PBHS and determine which tier the child will need.
“Students are on a four-year plan in high school and the courses they take have to meet the board of regents’ requirements,” Pankratz said.
For instance, Kansas Board of Regents require college-bound students to have general science, biology, and chemistry.
“We encourage students to take physics as well. A student who is not planning to go to college has the option of food sciences or horticulture as a science credit to meet high school graduation requirements,” Pankratz said.
All students enrolled at Kansas colleges, including community colleges, must meet the same requirements. The ACT scores also help determine placement for the student enrolling in a college or university.
Pankratz used the example of a student’s score in reading which is used by the college adviser to place the incoming student in the appropriate class.
“For a class that requires a lot of reading such as history or psychology, students should have good reading comprehension skills,” she said. “If they don’t the college may require a special class as a prerequisite to enrolling in history or psychology classes.”
The scores also assist high schools in determining how well they are preparing their students for college. There are curriculum charts that help administrations and teachers determine whether added emphasis is needed in a given area.
Students are encouraged to take the exam in April or June of their junior year.
“I give a practice test and sometimes we encourage them to take the actual test more than once,” Pankratz said, “but really the best thing they can do is enroll in the tier courses for college-bound students and work hard.”
At Hillsboro High School, any student can take the test and it’s not necessarily for juniors and seniors.
According to HHS counselor Diana Holub, there are even a few sophomores who take the test each year.
There’s a lot riding on the test results other than entrance into the college of the student’s choice.
“The ACT is used to determine scholarships. A lot of schools base scholarships on the scores,” Holub said.
In addition, Holub said the scores are used to determine in which college classes the student should enroll.
“If a student is below the college’s benchmark, he or she may have to take remedial classes to reach the benchmark,” she said.
The scores also indicate in which colleges the student could have success.
“Students are encouraged to match their scores with the college scores, which are available online,” Holub said. “Being located in a college town, there may be more of an emphasis to go to college. Students are aware that they have to have a certain score to go to college.”
Individual scores indicate interest level and which direction students could take for college classes and a career.
There are five national test dates each year with colleges typically using the best composite score.
As a school district, Holub said the school wants to make sure it stays above the state composite score. The district also looks at trends.
If the trend is on an increase, like HHS’s trend is, but then suddenly dips, Holub wants to know why.
She also watches the scores of larger schools and doesn’t compare HHS so much with schools in the county.
At USD 397 Centre, counselor Lacy Wallace said he compares the ACT scores with the national average rather than the state.
According to Wallace, there were 22 out of 29 students who took the test not 24 as reported by ACT. Students can take the tests, Wallace said, up to three times to improve their scores.
USD 411 Goessel counselor Janna Duerksen is pleased with the test results.
“We’re always happy to see when our results are at or above the state average,” she said.
Duerksen credits the teachers and the curriculum offered at the small school.
“Studies show that higher-level math and science courses that students take will results in higher ACT scores,” she said.
Eighty percent of the students at GHS are college-bound, Duerksen said.
“Most of our students have high aspirations because of the strong work ethic in the community. The teachers also encourage them,” Duerksen said.
For being a smaller school, Duerksen said the Goessel district is proud to be able to offer physics, chemistry, biology, and other advanced classes.
Students typically take the test two times — once as a junior to provide a baseline and again as a senior.
Colleges look at the highest score but also look at the number of times students took the test, Duerksen said.
At USD 408 Marion-Florence, some discrepancies were found in the data provided by ACT.
According to Brenda Odgers, principal of Marion High School, instead of testing 30 students in 2008, there were 24 tested.
“Our scores don’t look great, they really don’t,” Odgers said.
She expressed some concerns that some of the students who took the ACT were not prepared.
“Research shows the more English classes you take the higher you will score. The harder the class you take, the better you do,” Odgers said.
Furthermore, the ACT test shows what a student has learned in high school. It is not an IQ test.
Although the composite scores do not reveal it, Odgers said there were several students who scored 30 points or more. A perfect ACT score is 36.
“Looking at the scores concerns me. We need to do a lot more talking to the kids when they are freshmen,” Odgers said. “Basically, we need to prepare them earlier.”