Glenwood ACT Scores Rising

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By Joel Stevens, Associate Editor

Glenwood Community High School students’ average score on the ACT exam went up in 2011, while Iowa’s overall scoring average ranked second nationally, according to a report released earlier this fall.

    Glenwood’s average composite score on the exam that measures college  preparedness of high school graduates in English, reading, math and science during 2011 was 23.7. That score is Glenwood’s top all-time composite score, 2.6 points better than the national average and more than a whole point better than the state of Iowa’s 22.3 composite score.
    Minnesota ranked No. 1 nationally with an average composite score of 22.3.
    Nebraska’s average score was slightly below Iowa at 22.1.
    Glenwood also scored record highs in the math (23.1), reading (24.1) and science (23.6) portions of the exam.
    The ACT is optional and not all students take the exam. In 2011, 103 Glen-wood students (65 percent of 2011 graduates) took the ACT, up 19 from the previous year.
    “When I first came it was consistently below 50 percent (on those taking the ACT),” said Glenwood Principal Kerry Newman. “But we’ve got it up to about 65 percent pretty consistently now.”
    The maximum score possible on the ACT is 36. Fewer than one-tenth of 1 percent of students across the country each year make a perfect score. Two Glenwood students scored a 34. Several others scored in the 32 - 33 range, Newman said.
    So what do the numbers say about Glenwood?
    That the high school is doing something right, Newman said.
    Newman points to improved high school curriculum and the school’s innovative ACT prep program as factors in the improved scores, but she also credits a lot of the improved scores on the students themselves and their own benchmarks.
    “The (ACT) prep (program) is just one element,” she said. “It shows me our upper-level kids have good exposure to the things the ACT is testing for. And I’ll take that a step further and say the ACT is an assessment worth teaching too because it teaches the kind of critical thinking we want to instill.
    “It’s really a combination of doing a lot better in the rigor of curriculum in the upper levels, it’s the prep and it’s awareness.”
    Five years ago, Newman along with her staff, introduced an ACT preparation program that has since been copied by several Hawkeye 10 Schools. The prep program works, said Newman, and not just because it heightens the awareness of the importance of the test.
    Glenwood’s ACT prep program has students taking a practice ACT the Saturday before the fall (October) and spring (April) test dates. Typically 30 - 40 students attend. The practice tests are timed and graded just like a real test. In the week leading up to the actual test, students spend time each day, Monday through Friday, going over each section of the exam, discussing strategies and preparing for the actual exam with Newman and  staff.
    “They get about 13 hours of preparation for a test that if left alone, I hate to sound negative, they probably wouldn’t use to study,” Newman said.
    Newman isn’t sure why more students don’t take the test but two factors, she said, play a role: two-year colleges like Iowa Western Community College no longer require ACT scores and some students just aren’t interested in paying $36 and giving up four hours on a Saturday morning to take a test they don’t feel is necessary for their post-graduation plans.
    “It can be really taxing for some kids, so I understand why they wouldn’t want to take it, but what I try and talk my kids into is taking it anyway because two-year schools like Iowa Western will accept them and then they have that and other opportunities,” Newman said.
    Emily Blum, a Glenwood junior, has taken the ACT and plans to take it again. She wasn’t happy with the 22 she scored this summer and she’s currently enrolled in the Glenwood prep course with the hopes of securing a 26 this time around.
    “I didn’t know what to expect or study so I got a book,” said Blum, who would like to work with children after college in either the medical or education fields. “I took it (the test) the first time to get a feel of it so I wasn’t real happy with my score. I took it in the summer so I had lost a lot of knowledge. I’m taking the (prep) course to be more prepared this time.”
    Blum admits she wasn’t strong in math and science but did well in reading and English the first time around. She hopes the prep course will better prepare her in those areas.
    Maddie VanScoy took the ACT for the first time Oct. 22. She said she’s not nervous about her results but knows the importance of a good score.
    “Right now, for my first test, I want to get at least a 20,” VanScoy said. “I’m not good with standardized tests and I never have been.”
    Blum and VanScoy both know a good ACT can mean the difference between a first choice college and a second choice. With four-year colleges increasingly emphasizing the ACT in acceptance and enrollment slots, Newman sees that trend as a good and bad thing.
    “I think the schools that use it as one indicator of a student is the best way to go,” she said. “Obviously there are great kids who don’t test well and came on late in high school. I don’t like that it’s happened (emphasis on ACT), but I understand it because it is the great equalizer. As a college, I know I can accept a kid from anywhere in the country because the ACT is the same common assessment.”
    As far as how Glenwood’s ACT scores rate as a litmus test for her teachers, the principal sees high scores.
    “There’s always data you can point to where we can do better,” Newman said. “I’m of the belief the teachers should celebrate this. Teachers need to celebrate every once in a while. These ACT scores are something to definitely celebrate.”