While defending and explaining a dip in ACT scores to electors at the Greenfield School District’s annual meeting last Monday, Superintendent Conrad Farner said the slight decline in 2011 had to do with the number students taking the test.
As the number of participants rose, Greenfield’s scores not surprisingly slipped, largely because only 20 percent of Greenfield’s students go on to four-year colleges or universities, Farner told an audience of 40-50 people.
Turns out, however, a far greater number of Greenfield High School students attend four-year colleges than Farner stated.
According to the Department of Public Instruction, 56.5 percent of the 291 graduates of the class of 2011 planned to go to a four-year college or university and another 19.5 percent intended to attend vocational or technical college.
No fewer than 42.9 percent of Greenfield graduating classes went to a four-year school since 1996-97, according to the DPI website’s database. The high over that period was 58.9 percent.
Farner told Patch the 20-percent figure came from conversations with other administrators and might have actually been the number of students who complete a four-year undergraduate degree.
“The relevant point I was trying to make is that merely looking at an average ACT score without considering what percentage of students are actually taking the test leads to inaccurate conclusions,” Farner said. “Any school’s scores will tend to be higher if only the true college-bound students take the test. If a school or district is trying to expand opportunities and have a higher percentage of the students take the ACT, perhaps as a way to assess the overall program, the overall average score will tend to decline.
“So making comparisons between schools and districts without considering that key fact leads to conclusions that are not very useful.”
The DPI’s Wisconsin Information Network for Successful Schools data is self-reported by 12th-graders and is best interpreted as estimates because students are asked what their plans are. The data does not measure precisely what a student chooses to do.
Farner said other factors are rarely taken into account when analyzing, comparing and interpreting ACT statistics. He said per capita income or parents’ education levels are rarely mentioned when comparing ACT scores across schools and districts. How long a student is in a district before taking the ACT is also overlooked.
“The value of ACT score discussions that ignore such pertinent facts is highly questionable,” Farner said.
“We feel good that we are increasing the percentage of students taking the ACT, and the slight, one-year decrease in our average score is not an indictment of anything we are doing. We are pleased that our average score actually increased two years in a row (in 2009-10 and 2010-11) while the number of students taking the test also increased, but we did not spend any time celebrating that fact as we know our students can do better. We can always improve, so we keep focusing on doing all we can to enhance our learning opportunities for our students.”