ACT scores show little movement across state, Fox Valley schools
By Jenette Sturges firstname.lastname@example.org August 27, 2012 9:41PM
Senior Diamante Hughes works on making up a class online at West Aurora High School on Monday, February 28, 2011. Students that have fallen behind in their classes can come to the lab to make up work and graduate on time. | Brian Powers~Sun-Times Media
District English Math Reading Science 2012 Composite 2008 Composite
Batavia 23.3 24.1 23.2 23.3 23.6 22.5
East Aurora 15.2 17.7 16.3 16.9 16.6 16.6
Geneva 24.2 23.8 23.9 23.3 23.9 23.9
Hinckley-Big Rock 21.9 21.9 21.7 22.1 22.0 20.6
Indian Prairie na na na na 24.2 na
Kaneland 20.6 20.9 21.0 20.7 21.0 21.1
Newark 21.1 22.2 22.0 21.4 21.9 20.1
Oswego 21.3 21.8 21.9 21.2 21.7 21.2
Oswego East 20.3 21.1 20.9 20.5 20.8 19.8
Plano 17.1 18.9 18.3 18.8 18.4 19.9
Sandwich 19.9 20.6 19.4 20.2 19.9 na
Somonauk 19.6 21.3 20.6 20.7 20.7 20.4
West Aurora 18.0 19.8 18.6 18.6 19.0 19.3
Yorkville 20.9 20.8 21.1 21.1 21.1 20.4
Updated: November 30, 2012 11:08AM
ACT scores are finally out for Fox Valley students headed to college this fall, and the numbers have barely budged.
Last week, districts across the state started receiving their College Readiness Reports, which give high school principals and other administrators a snapshot of how well their students did on the ACT, the college acceptance test taken alongside the Prairie State Achievement Exam by high school juniors. Because of a year-long lag in reporting, the scores released last week are for students who were juniors in spring of 2011.
Across Illinois, the average composite score stayed exactly the same as the year before, at 20.9, out of a possible 36. The score is lower than the national average, but the highest among the nine states that make every high school junior take the test.
In the Fox Valley, there were winners and losers.
Batavia High School students bested their previous record, scoring an average composite of 23.6.
“Each and every one of you can take pride in your contribution to our students’ success,” said Superintendent Jack Barshinger in a back-to-school kick-off with district employees last week. He attributed the gains to a four-year collaboration among staff to raise scores.
The Indian Prairie School District had the highest score for all Fox Valley schools, with 24.2 — although that was a slight decline from the score in the previous year.
East Aurora was the lowest-scoring district in the area, with a 16.9 average, the same as the previous year. West Aurora earned a 19.0 on average, a 0.1-point drop.
The results would seem a cause for both celebration and consternation at schools across the Fox Valley, because ACT scores don’t just determine where college-bound students get accepted and how much they’ll earn in scholarship money anymore. Standardized test scores are now used to determine whether a school is passing or failing under No Child Left Behind, whether a school has to offer parents a choice in busing their students to better-performing schools, and soon, under a state law passed last year, test scores will be used to determine whether teachers get raises or keep their jobs.
“The results from these tests are massively over used,” said Bob Schaeffer, from the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, an advocacy group. “No test is ever good enough to make a high-stakes education decision about a student, a school district, or teachers.”
The ACT, Schaeffer said, is a multiple choice exam that does not do a good job of assessing students’ higher-order thinking skills.
Students can also be prepared for the exams, Schaeffer said.
“You can easily boost average scores by taking a couple class days to practice on the test,” he said.
Preparing for the test
With stakes so high for both schools and students, West Aurora has begun an ACT initiative both during the school day and outside of it, with teacher development, “ACT Days” in which every class used ACT skills and strategies as part of the lesson, and ACT skill reviews for juniors in study hall. Juniors could also join an ACT club after school, get online ACT help, take a practice test, and enroll in a test prep class evenings and weekends, taught by West Aurora teachers.
The extra emphasis paid off in higher test scores for the juniors who took the test in April 2012.
Because of a year-long lag in reporting, the ACT College Readiness Letters give scores indicating how ready students are for college once they’ve already left for college.
So while West Aurora’s official score for the class of 2012 was an average of 19.0, the unofficial score for the class of 2013 is 19.7 — a significant gain after years of more or less stagnant scores.
But if there is value in the ACT scores sent out to high schools each year, said Schaeffer, it’s not the incremental year-to-year changes.
“I would look at long-term trends to make sure that increases are statistically meaningful,” said Schaeffer.
Across the Fox Valley, Geneva High School, the second-highest scoring in the area, has the same composite score it did in 2008, 23.9. East Aurora also has not budged by even a fraction of a point.
Hinckley-Big Rock has made the highest gains, 1.4 points, over the past five years, followed by a 1.1 point gain in Batavia over those same five years and a 1.0 gain at Oswego East High School.
Plano High School has seen its average composite score tumble by 1.5 points.
Despite the stagnation, more testing is probably on the way, with the adoption of the Common Core standards, a set of curriculum standards that many Fox Valley school districts are beginning to roll out this year ahead of the 2015 state mandate.
The standards promise better tests that give better, faster feedback for teachers to learn and adjust their teaching to their students. But depending on how those tests look — nobody really knows yet — that may or may not help students and teachers.
“Good teachers use data all the time — weekly spelling tests, essays, homework — they are assessing students and adjusting their teaching,” said Schaeffer. “The type of data coming back from these (current exams) are virtually useless.”