Janesville ACT score edges up; officials plan to do better

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Frank Schultz
Wednesday, August 21, 2013

JANESVILLE—Like a football team trailing in the first half, the Janesville School District has just begun to fight.

That's the impression one would get from reading the district's statement on the latest ACT results.

Janesville's composite score on the ACT college-readiness exam, taken by students who graduated in June, is 21.5. That's an improvement of one-tenth of a point from last year, but Janesville still trails the state average.

“The School District of Janesville cannot settle for being average,” Superintendent Karen Schulte said in a prepared statement. “We must do better for our children, and we will.”

That last sentence was identical to her quote last year, and the solution mentioned last year is the one touted in this year's announcement.

The district has a plan that officials hope will produce steady improvement on the ACT and other measures of high school success.

One small element of that plan is a big deal to students entering seventh grade this fall. Next year in eighth grade, they'll be taking algebra, the district announced.

Now, most Janesville students take algebra in ninth grade.

“ACT trend data indicate the average math score on the ACT increases by two points when students take algebra in eighth grade,” according to the district's news release.

The improvement plan is called Project Redesign, which officials say will make high school more rigorous.

Project Redesign eventually will align the high school curriculum with the Common Core State Standards in math and English, which are said to be more rigorous, and the ACT College and Career Readiness Standards.

Another part of the plan involves testing. The district is phasing out the Measures of Academic Progress tests for grades 7-10 and replacing them with the ACT's Educational Planning and Assessment System tests.

The new tests resemble the ACT that most students take in 11th grade.

“They're almost exactly the same. There's just a lower ceiling,” said Amy Sheridan, the district's testing coordinator.

“Additionally, all 11th-grade students participated in a practice ACT in the spring of 2013,” the news release states. 

Sheridan said all this ACT testing will make students comfortable when they take the ACT for real.

“That is one positive side, yes. It also gives us much more detailed information, and the parents get much more detailed information as far as what the student got wrong and what can be done to improve that area,” Sheridan said.

The test results will help educators identify students' learning needs and monitor their progress, the news release states.

The cost for the new tests is slightly lower than for the old MAP tests, Sheridan said, and the time spent taking tests could be less as well. The ACT is a timed test, while the MAP tests gave students unlimited time.

One more benefit: state schools Superintendent Tony Evers wants to phase in the ACT for students statewide in 2015, so if that happens, Janesville will be ready, Sheridan said.

The district is not promising success, but the news release does say how success will be measured:

“The success of the redesign efforts will be measured throughout the next four years; beginning with Advanced Placement testing, ACT testing, Wisconsin Knowledge Concepts Exam and performance on local assessment results, as well as the increased ability of Janesville graduates to find success after high school.”

If things go as planned, test results will show “a slow and steady upward trend throughout the next four years,” the release states.

Project Redesign is expected to be fully in place during the 2015-16 school year.

For now, Janesville's ACT composite score is precisely six tenths of a point below the state average and six tenths of a point above the national average, according to numbers released Wednesday by the state, the district and the ACT organization.

The state's average composite score was 22.1, unchanged from last year.

The composite score is an average of students' scores on tests of English, math, reading and science. The highest possible score is 36.

Craig High School's composite score was 21.9, down from last year's 22.1.

Parker High School's composite was 20.9, up from last year's 20.6.

Wisconsin's ACT performance was second in the nation—tied with Iowa—among states in which at least half of graduating seniors took the test. Minnesota led the nation with a composite score of 23.

Evers said in a news release that: “Our 2013 graduates performed well …” but educators need to get students to take more rigorous coursework.

As in previous years, performance gaps remain between whites and other ethnic groups statewide. Janesville has seen similar gaps, but local data was not available Tuesday.


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