Most North Shore students achieve stellar ACT marks

Curriculum, highly motivated pupils credited for consistently topping state average

Aug. 25, 2009

Almost all school districts on the North Shore had feel-good moments last week when the ACT scores were released. All but Brown Deer were well above the state average, and in most cases, the scores showed improvement from the year before.

The ACT test measures knowledge, understanding and skills acquired in English, mathematics, reading and science reasoning. Many colleges and universities use the ACT as an admissions test for high school graduates, according to information on the Department of Public Instruction Web site.

Whitefish Bay tops in North Shore

Whitefish Bay High School led the pack, with a composite score of 26.1.

"Obviously we are very happy with that and pleasantly surprised, too," said Bill Henkle, principal at Whitefish Bay High School. "We have gotten into the habit of hoping to see 25-something. This is just really remarkable."

Henkle credits the students in the Class of 2009, many of whom are now on their way to college.

"Sometimes a class dazzles because of the number of high-end students," he said. "There were obviously high-end students in the class but this group was really strong from stem to stern. From what I have seen statewide over the last 10 years, that mark (26 and above) has been breached only twice."

The top composite score possible on the ACT is a 36. Fifty one of the 193 students at Whitefish Bay High School who took the test scored a 30 or higher, he said.

Henkle, Mequon-Thiensville Superintendent Demond Means, Shorewood High School Principal Matt Joynt and Nicolet District Administrator Rick Monroe all agreed the scores are a reflection mainly on the students but also of the work that goes on in the districts to educate young people.

"It's a testament to the system," Means said. "It's not just the high school teachers but the entire district."

ACT scores do fluctuate from year to year in each district, they said, and it is important not to get too hung up on those changes. All the districts are typically above state average from year to year, with the exception of Brown Deer in recent years.

"It's about getting young people the opportunity to do whatever they want to do after high school," Means said.

AP classes help in preparing

Monroe said Nicolet helps students achieve by putting them into the most rigorous classes they can handle.

"Having students in Advanced Placement classes really is the best way to prepare them," he said.

The district encourages all students to take the ACT, he said, because it helps keep doors open for them, particularly in cases when they are not sure they want to go to college right away, or in these troubled economic times, if they can afford to go to college right away.

"They score best when they are still actively in school, and the scores are good for a number of years," he said.

Brown Deer found itself again below the average state score, holding firm at 21.2 where the district has been for the last three years. According to the DPI Web site, the district's ACT scores have exceeded the 22 point mark only four times since the 1996-1997 school year.

Neither Superintendent of Schools Deb Kerr nor Director of Instruction Terry Brecklin were available to talk with a reporter. Spokeswoman Barb Fleming said in an e-mail response that the district's analysis of the test results indicate some subgroups do very well and the challenge for the district is to ensure that all students achieve at that level.

"All juniors at Brown Deer High School have access to online test preparation sessions and tutorials through Kaplan - this opportunity was new last year, " she wrote. "The high school plans to better promote the use of this important tool. ACT test preparations will also be the topic of staff discussions this year as well."

On behalf of Kerr and Brecklin, she invited the reporter to attend an in-service Aug. 26 meeting where Brecklin will be presenting test results and ways to address achievement.


ACT Results

  Composite Scores 2008-2009 (2007-2008) Percentage taking test this year (last year)
Brown Deer 21.2 (21.2) 72.5 (72.4)
Homestead 25.3 (25.6) 82.8 (82.9)
Nicolet 25.2 (24.8) 86 (83)
Shorewood 25.9 (24.8) 74.4 (80.3)
Whitefish Bay 26.1 (25.4) 84.6 (85)
State* 22.2 (22.3) 57.2 (55.7)

*Numbers taken from Department of Public Instruction Web site, include public schools only


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