Teton County School District beat Wyoming state averages yet again, this time on the ACT and Aspire tests for high school students.
“In all areas our students are outperforming the state,” Superintendent Gillian Chapman said. “Not by a little, but by a significant amount.”
Wyoming is one of 16 states where all students are mandated to take the test as a state accountability measure. Illinois, Colorado, Kentucky, Michigan, North Dakota, Tennessee, North Carolina, Hawaii, Louisiana, Montana, Alabama, Utah and most recently Missouri, Nevada and Wisconsin are the other states.
“All juniors in the state of Wyoming take the test, and ours performed so well,” Chapman said. “That’s pretty impressive. Jackson Hole High School and Summit High School did a tremendous job of preparing students.”
The ACT, taken by juniors, is one measure to predict college preparedness. Aspire, another test in the ACT brand of tests, is for freshmen and sophomores.
“The ACT is traditionally given to 11th-graders across the nation to show college readiness,” said Karen Wattenmaker, data analyst and research coordinator. “Aspire is a new ninth- and 10th-grade assessment linked to college readiness benchmarks on the ACT. However it’s also linked to Wyoming state standards.”
Because the Aspire test is new, Wattenmaker said it will be hard to compare results with years past.
“For us, using it longitudinally will be challenging in the future,” she said.
The newness of the test may explain why district students did not meet all test-established benchmarks on the Aspire test, despite bringing in scores higher than the state average in every category across grades.
According to Wattenmaker, the benchmarks are based on national averages.
“Those benchmarks, in theory, will correlate to students’ future ACT scores,” Wattenmaker said.
Freshmen passed Aspire benchmarks in English, math and reading. Their scores did not exceed the benchmark in science. Sophomores passed Aspire benchmarks in English but did not in math, reading or science.
There are no benchmarks on the ACT test for juniors. However the Wyoming Department of Education established performance levels in 2014 for the ACT test that divide results into advanced, proficient, basic and below basic performance in the subject test areas.
The Wyoming Department of Education said in a press release that results from this year are not comparable to years before 2014 because they represent a much higher level of expectation for Wyoming students.
This year 30.4 percent of students were below basic in reading, 16.7 percent below basic in math and 27.8 percent below basic in science.
Other changes may have affected scores.
“This was also the first year having an online assessment,” Wattenmaker said.
“As we move towards aligning our curriculum to the Wyoming standards, the younger grades’ [scores] are going to be more aligned with the benchmarks,” Wattenmaker added.
District scores suggest that college readiness on the ACT may vary by sex. But although Wattenmaker pointed out a gender gap in score results during last week’s board meeting, she declined to speculate why district females outperformed district males on the test.
“I’m going to withhold judgments on that until we have an idea of why it happened,” she said. “We’ll look into it and hopefully try to figure out data that may support assumptions.”
It’s important to keep in mind that data year to year reflects achievements of a different set of students.
“This isn’t cohort data,” Wattenmaker said.
Still, the test has value.
“This is really great data for us as a system,” Chapman said.
“The ACT is one measure that is meant to predict the readiness of students,” she said. “Clearly we are preparing our students for college readiness based on this measure.”
Wattenmaker pointed out during last week’s board meeting that providing AP classes in the high school is probably helping students to be ready for college.
“The more rigor we provide for students, the better they do on the ACT,” Wattenmaker said.
“That rigor really helped,” she said. “They’re taking a risk, they’re saying yes, I am ready for college. They’re starting to realize that college isn’t just a pipe dream, it can be a reality for them.”