Thursday, August 18, 2005


Nebraska came out very well in Wednesday’s announcement of average ACT scores, compared to our neighboring states.

In analyzing averages, you have to consider two numbers: the score, and the participation rate. Nebraska had the second-highest score and the second-highest participation rate, of our seven-state “neighborhood.” Iowa’s kids edged ours on the test, which has a perfect score of 36, but we had significantly more kids taking it, so you could say our numbers actually look better.

Here are the numbers:

Nebraska, 21.8, 76%
Missouri, 21.6, 70%
Kansas, 21.7, 76%
Colorado, 20.2, 100%
Wyoming, 21.4, 69%
South Dakota, 21.5, 76%
Iowa, 22.0, 66%

Note that Colorado and Illinois have both mandated that all students take the ACT, not just the college-bound. That’s a great idea, and it’s working very well to raise everybody’s sights higher in the Rocky Mountain state. We should think about doing the same.

As for high schools in the metro area, wow! Westside made eye-popping progress on its average ACT score over the last year. They moved from a 23.4 to a 24.2 on the 36-point scale. That’s tremendous. According to The World-Herald’s published chart Wednesday, it looks to be the highest around the metro area.

Of course, that’s not counting all the Catholic high schools, most of which probably beat Westside, as they have for years. The last time I saw a straight-up comparison, Prep, Duchesne and Marian all beat Westside and all other public high schools by a couple of points. Brownell-Talbot did, too, and I think Concordia, the Lutheran school, did, too. But now, for various reasons, the archdiocese doesn’t let itself get swept up in the numbers game and participate in this annual chart. And I don’t know what happened to the other private schools.

Anyway, there are two other things you have to consider in looking at Westside’s score:

-- The chart should have included the exclusion rate. How many students enrolled in the graduating class have been labeled “learning disabled,” and were excluded from taking the test, having their scores count or receiving special accommodations, like having questions read to them? The chart indicates that Westside reported 75% of its 2005 seniors took the test, which is much lower than the 84% at Millard West and four other public high schools, including Omaha North. I bet the difference is LD kids. Westside is known to have a higher than normal percentage of LD kids, and a lot of “ungraded” kids in special ed who might stay in high school an extra year or two or three – so they would not be included in the group of “seniors” even though they are the same age. That ratchets up the academic ability of the overall group in a way that could be considered mildly deceptive.

-- The chart should have included the raw numbers of students who took the test and the number of students in the 2005 graduating class. So if Westside had 300 kids graduate – I’m just guessing – but only 200 took the ACT last year, then you can see how many classmates were actually excluded, and that the participation rate was closer to 67% than the 75% claimed, which is what I suspect.

But any way you slice it, Westside’s scores look good, at least on paper, and that’s progress. Congratulations are due!

To check out Nebraska’s latest scores compared to the rest of the country, remember the importance of the participation rate, and see

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