ACT scores soon will have an even greater importance for schools and students.

The Nebraska State Board of Education voted Friday to have ACT provide its standardized college entrance exam to all Nebraska high school juniors starting in spring 2017.

That comes on the heels of ACT releasing the composite scores for 2016 graduates to all high schools across the U.S. to help determine college readiness among those graduates.

Hastings High has been part of a Nebraska pilot program where all juniors take the ACT in the spring. With this new decision, the ACT will replace the current Nebraska State Accountability or NeSA testing taken by juniors in public schools across Nebraska.

The ACT test consists of curriculum-based tests of educational development in English, mathematics, reading and science designed to measure the skills needed for success in first-year college coursework.

When Hastings High first administered the ACT to all juniors in 2013, there was a drop in the district’s composite score. In 2012, the composite was 21.2 compared to the state average of 22. It dropped to 18.7 in 2013 and has stayed between 18.5 and 19.1 since that time. The 2016 composite was 18.6 as compared to the state composite of 21.4.

“There’s no statistical change for us,” said Chad Dumas, HPS’ director of curriculum, instruction and assessment. “It’s all the same across the board, which tells me that we are not falling behind but we’re not getting ahead.”

At Adams Central, CIA director Shannon Nepple said most of the students take the ACT and their composite is higher than the state average.

“As a general snapshot, our composite was 23 compared to the state average of 21.4,” she said. “I think it points to the hard work of students and staff that we’re two points ahead of state average.”

At St. Cecilia, Principal Sandy VanCura said 32 of 34 graduates, or 94 percent, took the ACT. The May 2016 senior class had a composite score of 22.6, compared to the state average of 21.4.

“Obviously, your results can very greatly with the students,” she said. “These scores are very close to the best scores that we’ve attained; however, they are not our highest scores over the course of the last five years.”

In addition to receiving the composite scores, within the next few months each school district will receive an individual breakdown of student scores in each area.

Dumas said he will put that information into the district’s computer software to match up what classes a student took compared to the scores that student received in each curriculum area.

“Then we’ll take that and use it to guide what we do programmatically at the high school,” he said.

At St. Cecilia, VanCura said the high school curriculum focuses both on the faith formation along with preparing its students to be successful academically in college whether that be a two- or four-year program.

“Everything we do in English, math, reading and science is geared toward preparing them for going on to college,” she said. “And the majority of our students do. I believe that we have 100 percent of Class of 2016 enrolled at a two- or four-year institution.”

At Adams Central, Nepple said the district has had students take the John Baylor ACT Prep courses each year for many years to prepare for the test.

She said students receive classroom instruction in the four curriculum areas in addition to the John Baylor Prep, which helps prepare them for the test itself.

Starting this year, Nepple said sophomores also will be doing some ACT prep work in order to better prepare them for the test, which they typically take as juniors or seniors.

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