CEDAR FALLS — ACT scores dipped for Iowa’s class of 2017, a drop that was reflected in the Cedar Valley’s two largest school districts.
Last spring’s graduates of Cedar Falls High School who took the college entrance exam earned an average composite score of 23.6. That’s a drop of 0.9 from 2016. For Waterloo East, Expo and West high schools, 2017 graduates had an average composite score of 20.1, a drop of 0.3.
Of the 10 other high schools across Black Hawk County and the surrounding area that took part in a survey of 2017 ACT results by The Courier, average composite scores went down for five, up for four and remained the same for one.
Decreases in the scores ranged from 0.1 to 1.8 and increases ranged from 0.8 to 5.3.
Iowa City-based ACT testing service released national and state data today for more than 2 million 2017 graduates across the country. There were 23,306 Iowans who took the ACT, or 67 percent of last spring’s graduating seniors. Iowa’s average composite dropped 0.2 to 21.9. The national average is 21 out of a possible 36.
For the past two years, Cedar Falls average score was the highest ever achieved by the district. “It’s pretty tough to have that bar up so high,” said Dan Conrad, the district’s secondary education director.
He added that average scores “in just about every one of the tests” were down, contributing to the decline in the composite. The four subject areas included on the ACT are English, math, reading and science. Compared to past years, Conrad said a smaller percentage of students reported taking higher level core subject classes and a larger percentage did not complete ACT prep courses, both of which could have affected scores.
Conrad saw some positives in the data, as well. He noted one student earned a 36 composite score and 32 students achieved a 30 or above. “We had 81 percent (of the test-takers) who earned 20 or above,” he said, the minimum composite score needed for admission to many colleges.
“Overall, again, we have to be pleased that we continue to score considerably higher than the state and national average,” Conrad noted.
Waterloo’s public high schools saw a 0.2 increase in the average math score, “but everything else was down,” said Charles McNulty, associate superintendent for educational services. “Participation’s up from last year 5 percent,” he added, which can result in a drop in scores. Ideally, he would like to see an increase in both participation and scores.
ACT staff members are working with Waterloo Community Schools middle school counselors next week, McNulty noted, on guiding students to classes that will better prepare them for college. That’s a central measure in ACT scores. Ensuring that the district’s middle and high school curriculum will support college readiness is “a large part of our five-year plan,” he said.
Officials from several schools surveyed by The Courier noted some difficulties in comparing ACT scores between graduating classes. Jeff Dieken, principal of Hudson High School, said the tests are “a snap shot of one day in one student’s life.” They don’t show the academic growth of the same student or group of students over multiple years.
In addition, a fluctuation in class sizes can affect the change in average scores from one year to the next. That can be more pronounced in smaller schools, like Hudson. Dieken noted Hudson’s class of 2017 “was the smallest in decades” with 34 graduates compared to 58 the year before. The composite score rose by 2.3 for last spring’s graduates, to 23.8.
Waterloo Christian School experienced an even bigger swing with its seven-member class of 2017. Their average composite score increased 5.3 to 26.4.
“We had a National Merit Scholar who just shot our scores through the roof,” said Jennifer Neifer, the school’s administrator.