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Two Greenfield districts fare differently in ACT scores and participation

Sept. 18, 2012

Greenfield - The results of last year's ACT college entrance exams showed mixed results for the two school districts that include Greenfield residents.

At Whitnall High School, the overall score was the highest in three years, set a record in English and surpassed the statewide average. Greenfield High School students, by comparison, are still about a point behind the statewide average overall and in the four subjects tested, though it showed a continued trend toward a higher proportion of seniors taking the test.

While not necessarily addressing the inevitable comparisons to Whitnall, Greenfield School District Superintendent Conrad Farner was critical of comparing various school districts to each other because crucial factors affecting scores are not taken into account.

Bigger numbers, lower scores

One is the percentage of students taking the test, he told the Greenfield annual meeting audience last week.

"If the top 10 percent take the test, you're going to have higher scores," Farner said.

In Greenfield, 73.1 percent of seniors took the ACT, he said. That beats the statewide average of 60.8 percent and is the highest for the school in the 17 years the state has kept records for ACT.

Measured against that high participation is that only about 44 percent of Greenfield seniors historically plan to go on to college, Farner said, which is another crucial factor that's missed in comparisons.

Higher socio-economic background is one of the strongest correlates to higher scores on standardized tests, but rarely is per capita income or parents' education levels ever mentioned when comparing ACT scores across schools/districts, Farner said after the meeting.

Another key point that is never examined is how long students were in the school system before taking the ACT, he said.

"If a district's average score includes a lot of students that were only enrolled in the district for one to three years before taking the ACT, it is difficult to say those students' scores are a result of that district's educational program," he said.

Because so many did take the ACT, scores slipped, but Farner said officials aren't alarmed because it comes on top of two years of scores increasing. When large numbers take the ACT, aggregate scores tend to deflate a bit, he said.

Greenfield's approach

But regardless of numbers taking the ACT, Farner predicted a better future.

The freshman ACT preparation program shows the scores overall and in every subject going up, he said. Also, what he called very encouraging progress has been seen in the growth from ninth to 10th grade, especially in literacy.

In addition, sophomores are hitting their targets on the Measures of Academic Progress tests, he said.

Reading is emphasized greatly at the elementary schools, which have now gone to a 90-minute block of time for uninterrupted reading instruction, he said. The schools also have introduced a 60-minute block of time for increased emphasis on math.

Students who start falling behind can be caught in the intervention time that is now built into the school day, he said.

In addition, those in kindergarten and first grade are now being screened to detect weakness. For older students, the schools are piloting an iPad project with selected teachers, Farner said.

Concentrating on helping teachers be the best they can be has come in the form of collaboration time when they can compare notes and approaches. The district also is doing more training in guided reading, math and positive behavior development, and it now has a teacher academy for new teachers and a Greenfield Academy for all teachers.

Whitnall's pride

At Whitnall, Superintendent Lowell Holtz said, "We are very proud."

"The scores are a positive reflection of the team effort between teachers and administration, along with a School Board that is committed to increasing academic achievement," Holtz said.

Not only did the scores far exceed the state average in composite, he said, "But more importantly in the college readiness benchmarks. In other words, we are graduating more students who are ready for college and career."

The English score was the highest in the 17 years that the state has kept ACT information and the science score tied last year's record high score. In addition, the math score was the highest for the school in 10 years.

Even though an already strong 70.5 percent of seniors took the ACT, Holtz said the district would like to see that increase because it presents opportunities for all students.

This year, Whitnall had one student achieve a perfect score of 36. She planned to attend Marquette University this fall.

He said 83.4 percent of students were accepted to a two- or four-year institution.

2011-12 COMPOSITE ACT SCORES
OVERALL READING ENGLISH MATH SCIENCE % TESTED
GREENFIELD 20.9 20.9 20.2 20.7 21.3 73.1
WHITNALL 23.4 23.3 22.8 23 23.9 70.5
STATE 22 22 21.3 21.9 22.1 60.8

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