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ACT scores for the class of 2020 rise in Cedar Falls, dip in Waterloo
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ACT scores for the class of 2020 rise in Cedar Falls, dip in Waterloo


WATERLOO — Cedar Falls High School saw a jump up in its ACT scores for the class of 2020 while the average score of seniors who graduated from Waterloo Community Schools last spring dipped slightly.

“We’re pretty excited about the composite,” said Pam Zeigler, Cedar Falls Community Schools’ associate superintendent for instruction and learning. The average combined score for the English, math, reading and science sections of the college entrance exam increased 1.3 points for 2020 graduates compared with the previous class. “Last year, we were at 23, this year we’re up to 24.3.”

The average composite score for 2020 graduates of Waterloo’s East, West and Expo high schools who took the ACT was 20, 0.2 less than the class of 2019. Stephanie Mohorne, Waterloo Schools’ associate superintendent for educational services, noted the testing data is useful for the district.

“We still know we have work to do with instruction, and we’re going to do that,” she said. “This is one more data point that we can look at to figure out how to change our instruction.”

Iowa City-based ACT testing service earlier this month released national achievement data for 1.67 million 2020 graduates across the country. There were 23,618 Iowans who took the ACT, or 68% of last spring’s graduating seniors. Iowa’s average composite dropped 0.5 to 21.1. The national average is 20.6 out of a possible 36 points.

Of the eight other high schools across Black Hawk County and the surrounding area that took part in a survey of 2020 ACT results by The Courier, average composite scores went up for five and down for two. Columbus Catholic High School, the eighth school, didn’t have 2019 results available for comparison.

Waterloo Christian High School’s increase compares three years instead of two because only one student from the class of 2019 took the test. That person had a higher composite score than the average for the three 2020 graduates who took the test. Improvements in average scores compared to the class of 2019 were seen for Hudson, Union, Jesup and Dike-New Hartford high schools, with increases ranging from 0.4 to 2.3 points.

Waverly-Shell Rock and Dunkerton high schools had decreases in their average scores of 0.5 and 0.6, respectively.

Tony Voss, superintendent of Hudson Community Schools, noted educators need to observe “multiple data points over time” to accurately understand a student’s academic progress, not just one test on a single day. He also warned against reading too much into a comparison of scores from one year to the next.

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“These are two separate groups of students with differing profiles and academic needs,” he said.

Mohorne said Waterloo Schools still looks at where those rising or falling scores are occurring. And, in the midst of a COVID-19 pandemic that shut down school last spring and possibly dissuaded some students from taking or retaking the ACT, she contended that “only going down 0.2 is a win” for the district.

Mohorne also pointed to three areas among the four test subjects and three subgroups where the district’s average score increased. Those were 0.2 in math, 0.1 in science and 0.2 in STEM (or science, technology, engineering and mathematics). The other subjects and subgroups include English, reading, writing and English language arts.

Information wasn’t available Thursday from Waterloo Schools on the number 2020 graduates who took the ACT or the percentage that met college readiness benchmarks based on their test scores.

Benchmarks of 18 in English, 22 in math and reading, and 23 in science are the minimum scores ACT says are needed for students to have a high probability of success in certain first-year college courses. They correspond to respective freshman college courses in composition, algebra, social sciences and biology.

In Cedar Falls, 45 percent of the 2020 graduates who took the ACT met those benchmarks in all four test subjects. Students meeting three or four benchmarks totaled 61%. Of 357 graduating seniors, 239 took the test.

Those meeting individual benchmarks at Cedar Falls High School totaled 81% in English, 67% in reading, and 62% each in math and science. Among the high-achievers, Zeigler said, 11 students stood out for getting a perfect score of 36 in reading.

Nationwide, 26% of the test takers met all four college readiness benchmarks and 37% met at least three.

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Education Reporter

I cover local schools and higher education for The Courier, where I’ve been a reporter for the past two decades. I’m a Minnesota native and have previously worked for newspapers there and in Illinois.

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