Whitewater’s ACT Scores

Yesterday, I posted on the below-average ACT participation rate for Whitewater.  As with last year, the Whitewater Schools want to tout a high average ACT score, but only while concealing a low participation rate.  See, Whitewater’s ACT Participation Rate Near the Bottom of Area Schools.

A few remarks on the latest results.

Competency on the ACT is Valuable for College-Bound and Non-College-Bound Students.  A facility in the underlying subjects that the ACT measures is useful in life for many fields, and not simply college-bound students.  That facility is far more than cramming for the test, or teaching to the test: a student should have a sound understanding of the substantive fields that the test measures, and as a consequence of that prior, independent understanding, have a good chance to do well at test time.

That’s not only my opinion – it’s also the view of Whitewater High School’s principal:

Parker said that the Whitewater district wants to give its students the best opportunity to succeed on the ACT because that score not only translates into college admission but also to future earnings.

“One ACT guru once said that the best job a high school student can get is to study for the ACT,” Parker said. “They can make more by getting two points higher on the ACT than they can at a minimum wage job for a whole year.”

Parker said that even outside the core focus, the Whitewater schools have focused on reading strategies, comprehension and critical thinking.

“Even technical reading in our career and technical area has really helped kids be able to critically think and problem-solve from texts,” he said. “That has translated well onto the ACT, (and), hopefully, that will transfer into work and career skills.”

Doug Parker, Whitewater High School Principal, quoted in Daily Union last fall,  

I would not have put the matter so awkwardly, and I do not know what an ACT guru is (and don’t need to know), but the point about the subject matter of the ACT being career-enhancing as well as preparatory for college is sound.  

What’s Wrong Now?  Too few Whitewater students are taking the test when compared to nearby schools.  If the substantive fields the test measures are important – and they are – why not measure a greater number of students to assess over understanding of key fields?

There is no compelling reason that Whitewater should have fewer ACT takers than Parkview, Williams Bay, Beloit Turner, Evansville, Milton, Brodhead, Clinton, Janesville, Big Foot, Edgerton, Lake Geneva Badger, and the state average.

This is a fundamental error: the policy of this district should be to encourage inclusion, and the measurement of key, substantive understanding among all students.  One may not reach all, but half is simply inadequate.

One knows that it’s inadequate because so many schools elsewhere can and are more inclusive in this regard.  

The state is moving to more comprehensive testing, but Whitewater should need a regulatory prodding. Whitewater should have been near the top of the participation rankings this year.  

Lower participation has the consequence of concealing how a wider number of students would fare on an understanding of substantive fields useful for college or non-college vocations.   

The business lobby last year undoubtedly thought that pushing scores from a narrower pool over broad-based performance would advance their collective members’ interests in improving business conditions.  (If they didn’t think this, then they’ve the wrong tax designation as 501(c)(6) business league.)

A sound educational environment isn’t the same as the business ambitions of a few.  

There’s a second problem with that approach: honest to goodness, these gentlemen have no chance whatever of winning over competitive newcomers with their smarmy, stale rhetoric and grandiose claims.  
How to Present Disappointing Results Competently.  Hiding the truth of results (lower-than-average participation) isn’t a competent or honest presentation: it’s a superficial one.  

Here’s how to present the results:

Whitewater’s students taking the last ACT exam received an average score of 23.5.  That’s above the state average score.  We’re proud of the hard work of students taking the test, their teachers, and their families.  Half the students who might have taken the test did so this time, and we won’t rest until that number also exceeds the state average.

Simple, direct, humble. 

How to Fix Low Participation Rates.  Although simply giving the test to more students will solve the participation problem (that’s the regulatory approach), it won’t produce a good average score.  

The subjects that the ACT emphasizes need to be advanced more confidently for all students.  If they are not, in an environment of high-participation statewide, Whitewater will (significantly) lag peer schools.  We will be perpetually at the bottom without an expectation that all students will perform well on key  substantive fields.

The college-bound, non-college-bound distinction in fundamental subjects will not serve this district; it will consign Whitewater to the bottom quartile of performance.  

What’s our demographic?  It should be all students, in a few substantive fields equally (so much as one can, which is far more than we are doing now). 

This brings us to the curriculum: our current approach will not serve this district.  This is the discussion that I wanted to have months ago, and yet will in the months ahead.  

Know this, though: half a population will not be enough for anyone.  Even those now taking and doing well on the ACT will benefit only partially from a district that wants broad acclaim for a too-narrow foundation.  A school run that way will look worse and perform so, press releases notwithstanding.

This community funds a full building, a full district, and deserves a full commitment.  

Some will complain this is too hard; it will be harder if our schools yield before those complaints.  

This is a great moment to re-think all that we are doing, before the weight of the wrong approach takes an irreversible toll.  

Pride stands in the way of this re-consideration, but nothing will stand in the way of a misguided approach’s educational consequences. 


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5 years ago

This is an unforced error. It was the district that published a release comparing Whitewater favorably to other districts. They didn’t say “Whitewater is good”. They said “Whitewater is near the top”. It makes sense to ask what being at the top means. How did we get there? It makes sense to reply to a statement by asking how how widespread this success has been. A lot of PR is just fluff but this PR is not even good fluff. How dumb do they think people are?

5 years ago

We should have as many kids taking the ACT as those other towns. I don’t get why we are not able to.

5 years ago

Here is a question for the day: what does it say that it takes a private blogger to state the obvious pro-education view to a public school? In most places teachers are worried about criticism. In Whitewater it’s really the critic who has the inclusive, broadminded view on education. Meanwhile the school principal pushes a PR talking point. Thanks for writing about this. It’s the right perspective on the merits.