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ACT test preparation

Journal illustration by Tim Gallagher

SIOUX CITY | ACT exam scores dropped last year for students in the Sioux City School District, ending a three-year span where the scores had risen.

Elsewhere in metro schools, the ACT scores rose at Dakota Valley High School in North Sioux City and at South Sioux City High school. The ACT composite results fell at Bishop Heelan High School and Sergeant Bluff-Luton.

Metro schools had scores in the range from 17.5 to 23.0, and the South Sioux City and Sioux City school districts were the only ones below the national average score of 21.0 for 2017 graduating seniors. The national average for ACT scores has tracked close to 21.0 in recent years, and metro school results have shown variability, depending upon the year.

The ACT, for American College Testing, tests students in English, math, reading and science reasoning. It is an academic benchmark commonly used in the Midwest for college admissions and many scholarships. A perfect score in each of the subjects and also the composite is 36.

The Sioux City School District's three high schools combined for an ACT composite of 20.2. Breaking that down by schools, the results were 20.7 at East High School, 20.6 at North High School and 19.1 at West High School.

Students at East, North and West combined for an average composite score of 20.9 on the 2016 exam, up from 20.7 the previous year. School officials would not provide a breakdown of scores by high school in 2016, after sharing the numbers for the three individual schools in 2015.

"The district has formed a committee to explore options that will help increase student success on this assessment and also increase the number of students who take the assessment. While we recognize ACT scores have room for improvement, it’s important to note we look at many metrics of student achievement and are seeing improvements in some areas, such as the increase in the District’s graduation rate," Sioux City School District Director of Curriculum, Instruction & Assessment April Tidwell said in a statement.

South Sioux City High School students had a 17.5 ACT composite, up from 17.4 last year. South Sioux City School District Director of Communications Lance Swanson said the results show a positive trend at a time more SSC students take the test.

Another school with ACT gains was Dakota Valley. The composite score was 23.0, up from the 22.8 mark last year and 22.0 in 2015.

"The ACT is an important predictor for how prepared our students are for college success, so we are pleased that our students have again scored above the national and state averages for Iowa, Nebraska and South Dakota," Dakota Valley Superintendent Jerry Rasmussen said.

The average composite score at Bishop Heelan High School in Sioux City was 22.8, a decrease from the 23.1 in 2016 and down from 23.8 in 2015.

Heelan Director of Guidance Bob Geary said more than 10 percent of students scored 30 or higher on the test.

"While the Bishop Heelan ACT numbers exceeded both state and national numbers and reflects well on the rigor and quality of our core academic product, we constantly strive to look at ways to enhance our educational product and give our young people the best opportunity to be successful in both the ACT exam and ultimately their post-secondary education," Geary said in a statement.

Another school with a two-year decrease was Sergeant Bluff-Luton. The SB-L class of 2017 posted an average composite score of 22.5, a decrease from the 22.8 of last year and the 23.1 of 2015.

SB-L Superintendent Rod Earleywine said he's proud of the ACT scores, and school officials will continue to prepare all students for whatever plans they have after high school.

The state composite averages were 21.9 in Iowa, 21.8 in South Dakota and 21.4 in Nebraska, compared to the 2016 state averages of 22.1 in Iowa, 21.9 in South Dakota and 21.4 in Nebraska.

The national ACT average in 2016 dipped from 21 to 20.8 as more states mandated the exam for its students. The national average was 21.0 in  2017, 2015 and 2014, and 20.9 in 2013.

Which students take the test can impact how high school results turn out. Twenty states administer the ACT to all 11th graders.  At Heelan, from 90 to 95 percent of students typically take the test.

In Nebraska, all juniors began taking the test in 2016-17. Prior to joining an ACT pilot project where all students sit for the exam, about 40 percent of all South Sioux students took the test and the district composite score was about 20.

Scores typically decrease as more students who are not college bound and have not taken preparatory courses for the ACT are required to take the exam.


County and education reporter

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