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More West Allis students took ACT - and that's good

But scores also slip, as a result

Sept. 18, 2012

West Allis - In one measure, an increase in the number of high school students taking the ACT college extrance exam, West Allis-West Milwaukee Schools hit their goal spectacularly.

But school officials knew when they set a goal to increase test participation by at least 5 percent, the composite scores might slip. And they did.

Still, ACT participation is an increasingly important component. That's because the schools will be evaluated partly on that factor when the state's new school report cards come out in the near future, said Johnna Noll, director of instruction.

Taking the test

At West Allis Central, 189 students took the test in 2011-12 compared to 125 in 2010-11.

At Hale, where participation has always been higher, it was 231 students last school year and 224 in the previous school year.

"We're excited we had such an increase in participation," Noll said.

In the current school year, the goal is again to increase participation by 5 percent.

While not all the students who took the ACT will go on to college, the skills they work on to prepare for the ACT are those they will need to be successful in whatever they choose to do, she said.

The percentage of Central students jumped from 38.6 percent in 2010-11 to 52.2 percent in 2011-12.

In another measure, the districtwide participation rate, the percentage locally was 48.8 percent last year - meaning that nearly half of the students who could have taken the test did.

That's still shy of the statewide average of 60.8 percent, but, particularly at Central, where the percentage jumped from 38.6 to 52.5 between the two school years, the improvement was notable.

Score slippage

While holding fairly even with the state averages in 2010-11, composite ACT scores slipped from 1.1 points to 1.3 points below the state average, both overall and in each of the four subjects tested - reading, English, math and science.

For 2011-12, the overall or composite score for West Allis-West Milwaukee was 20.7 and the state average was 22.

The main reason for the slip in scores is that some kids who might not have planned to take the test, but decided to take it after all, were probably not as well prepared. Had they known from, say freshman year, that they would take the ACT, the results might have been stronger, Noll said.

"But we don't want to accept that more kids took the test so it's OK to have lower scores," she said.

Upward-aiming studies

In fact, the schools have a whole battery of measures they are putting into effect this year to get scores up.

One of the main things is continuing to realign the local curriculum with the state's new Common Core standards, which are aligned pretty well with the ACT benchmarks, Noll said. The goal is to teach things that will be on the ACT before students take the test rather than after, when it's a lesson learned too late. The idea is to boost students' ACT scores that count toward college admission and opens the doors for students.

"Our district has been aligned with state standards for many years, but a year ago, the state went with Common Core and it's like starting all over again," Superintendent Kurt Wachholz noted.

Another thrust is adding rigor to lower grades, Noll said.

For example, algebra is now available to eighth-graders, she said. That means they could take geometry as freshmen instead of sophomores, and trigonometry as sophomores instead of juniors, and they'll be able to take higher math classes later on.

Similarly, biology, a 10th-grade course, was moved to ninth grade, and chemistry, a junior level course, to sophomore level. By doing that, students can get a whole year more of academic rigor, Noll said.

Along with that, the schools will look at cutting some electives. They often don't offer the same level of rigor and may not be aligned with the ACT.

Better preparation, too

And finally, the schools want to help students better prepare for the ACT, Noll said.

That includes helping them with course selections as early as fifth grade. It also means introducing useful study skills, such as those taught in the AVID program, to students districtwide.

The ACT practice tests that have been done on a limited basis will be more systematic next year, she said. Also the district is looking into developing an ACT preparation course that might even be available for credit. Currently, parents have to pay for ACT preparation courses.

Even kindergartners will get in on ACT preparation. The schools are introducing bell-ringer activities in all grades, including kindergarten, that are quick activities developed by the ACT as early preparation for the test.

2011-12 ACT SCORES2010-11 ACT SCORES
STATEWEST ALLIS-WEST MILWAUKEENATHAN HALECENTRAL HIGHSTATEWEST ALLIS-WEST MILWAUKEENATHANHALECENTRAL HIGH
COMPOSITE2220.721.519.822.121.722.620.1
READING2220.821.52022.12222.920.2
ENGLISH21.320.121.118.821.421.12219.3
MATH21.920.421.119.72221.422.220.1
SCIENCE22.12121.620.222.221.822.620.5
% TESTED60.848.857.352.559.847.459.938.6

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