Like many other school districts across Wisconsin, Waunakee’s scores in a number of testing areas saw a decline on the ACT and Forward Exam tests.

Yet in many subjects, including math on the ACTs and English Language Arts on the Forward Exams, Waunakee’s students tested higher than those in all other Dane County districts.

The tests are a measure of the students’ proficiency in math, science, language arts and social studies. ACT scores are also used by many colleges as one criteria for admission.

Statewide, scores dropped this year, but Waunakee district administrators seem mainly concerned about the students’ ACT scores, the decline of which curriculum and instruction director Tim Schell called a “multi-year trend.”

“It’s certainly something we’re really looking at with the high school team,” Schell said.

Among the other areas, some scores improved, while others stayed the same or declined.

One area that declined in proficiency occurred in 10th grade social studies, but that test saw a lower participation among students. The scores reflect the entire grade, rather than the performance of only the students tested, Schell said.

Schell attributes some of the decline in scores overall to the challenging weather; the tests were administered in February after six days of cancelled school days in Waunakee.

“I just think when you expect students to do well on a high-stakes exam, the better the conditions are in the lead-up, and the more routine there is, the more predictability, they’re going to do better,” Schell said.

Still the decline in the percentage of students performing proficient or advanced on the ACT has occurred over several years.

In Dane County, the Middleton-Cross Plains district was one of the few to see improved scores on the English, math and science portions. The results showed 64.7 percent of students scoring in the proficient or advanced ranges in English, 56.4 percent in math and 57.9 percent in science.

Waunakee scores showed 57.4 percent of students performing proficient or advanced in English, the second highest in the county. Students had the highest performance in math of Dane County districts with 56.5 performing proficient or advanced. The scores were 56.1 percent proficient or advanced in science, slightly below the Middleton-Cross Plains district.

“There were some things positive in here too. We continue to perform very well relative to the county, we perform very well statewide and that includes the ACTs. Our combined proficiency on math on Forward increased again a little bit… and if you look at our ELA (English) scores they’re over the strongest in Dane County,” Schell said.

Still, district administrators often look for areas to improve upon, and this year, the ACTs are a focus.

What to do?

The high school as part of their annual data retreat process comes up with an improvement plan that addresses readiness skills. Also, the district has looked at how ready students are for the exams.

“We know we have higher opt-outs for the Aspire,” Schell said, noting that test is aimed at exposing students to the ACT.

“If families are opting their child out of the Aspire, they’re not getting that preparatory experience,” Schell added.

The high school offers two types of preparation for students – including a face-to-face course that students pay a small fee for.

It also has a computer based test preparatory program that offers customized learning features based on an initial screening. It is completely free.

“It’s been offered for several years. We do know that it is very, very underutilized,” Schell said about the computer program.

Schell noted that today, all students have a Chromebook and are able to access the computer program.

“This year the high school is making an effort… to make parents of juniors in particular more aware of the test-prep options so they can engage the juniors in that conversation here in the fall,” Schell said. “Again, I don’t think test prep is the be all and end all. I think ultimately these tests are measures of what kids know.”

But, Schell added, the ACTs are a particular type of test used for college admissions decisions.

“When we see we have elevated opt-out numbers on the Aspire, that only underscores the importance of making students and their families aware of the affordable and free ACT test prep pieces, because the Aspire can give students the test format,” Schell said.

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