In the metro-east, ACT scores were up for the graduating class of 2017 over the previous year’s graduates.
That boost comes as the number of students taking the exam is on the decline.
The 2017 graduates could have taken the ACT as sophomores, juniors or seniors, but in any case, individual families, districts or schools had to cover the cost if they wanted students to take the exam.
The state hasn’t administered the ACT to all high school juniors since the 2014-15 school year. Even then, it wasn’t a requirement for students to take the test, according to the Illinois State Board of Education.
In the 2015-16 school year, when the class of 2017 graduates were juniors, Illinois couldn’t provide a free college entrance exam like it previously had because of the state’s budget impasse.
More than 150 public and private school districts in Illinois paid for their students to take the ACT during the 2015-16 school year, according to ACT spokesperson Ed Colby. A list of the specific districts wasn’t available.
Even so, the number of 2017 graduates tested across the state was down 14 percent, according to a report by the ACT organization.
Parker Johnson, who graduated in the class of 2017, said he took the ACT in part because he knew the results of the exam could give him access to college scholarships.
Johnson had one of the highest scores in his graduating class at First Baptist Academy: 31 out of 36. It helped him earn a $12,000 annual scholarship to attend Liberty University in Virginia, where he studies biomedical science as a pre-medical student.
Reasons for improvement
Of the 26 local high schools surveyed by the News-Democrat, Red Bud High School saw one of the largest increases in its average score among public schools: from 19.1 to 21.6. The highest score a student can get is 36.
Red Bud also saw about half as many of its 2017 graduates taking the test compared to 2016 graduates: from 104 students to 55.
Red Bud District 132 Superintendent Jonathan Tallman said in an email to the BND that he thinks the improvement in scores was due in part to students seeking out the test.
A student who wants to go to college typically needs to submit either an ACT or SAT score when applying. Red Bud students who paid to take the test were more likely to be preparing for college.
“We will continue to monitor the results, and we are committed to continuing in-depth curriculum work in all departments to support student success,” Tallman said. He added that District 132 is proud of “the continued achievement” of Red Bud students.
About half the schools that the BND surveyed had an average score that was higher than the statewide average of 21.4. The national average was 21, according to ACT’s annual report.
First Baptist Academy, a private school in O’Fallon, had the highest average ACT score for its graduating class of 2017 and the largest increase from the previous year of the schools surveyed.
Sixteen students averaged a score of 26.9 out of 36 — up from 23.7 the previous year when 11 First Baptist Academy graduates took the ACT. Johnson was one of three students at First Baptist Academy to have a score higher than 30 in the 2017 graduating class.
Principal Jackye Biehl credited First Baptist Academy teachers with improving students’ performance.
Stacy Gibson, an assistant administrator and teacher, said First Baptist Academy works to make sure students are equipped for the exam through a required ACT preparatory class in the fall. And school officials make changes to the curriculum based on previous years’ standardized test results and ACT scores, according to Gibson.
She said the class of 2017 had a large percentage of students who had attended First Baptist Academy for six or more years. The school teaches students in kindergarten through high school.
Johnson said he took the ACT two more times after getting a score of 30 the summer after his sophomore year.
“When I kept taking it, I was getting more comfortable with the math section,” Johnson said. He thinks the ACT prep class also helped his score.
Another private school, Father McGivney Catholic High School in Glen Carbon, had the second highest score locally: 25.14 based on 25 students tested. That’s an increase from the class of 2016’s average score of 24 from 17 Father McGivney students.
The top 10 percent of Father McGivney’s class of 2017 earned an average score of 31.
Larger schools have high scores, too
But small classes of graduates weren’t the only ones with high average scores. O’Fallon Township High School tested 423 students and had the highest average score among public schools at 24.5.
Assistant Superintendent Martha Weld said O’Fallon District 203 applied for waivers so OTHS students with financial need could still take the ACT when the state didn’t provide it.
“Because 84 to 89 percent of our students go to college, we still wanted to provide the opportunities to the students,” Weld said.
Like First Baptist Academy, Weld said OTHS offered an ACT prep program as a way to help students’ performance.
OTHS’ class of 2016 earned an average score of 23, which was based on 172 more students tested than the class of 2017.
Belleville East and Belleville West high schools each saw an increase in average ACT scores and a decrease in the number of students tested for their 2017 graduates.
Belleville West tested 327 students in the class of 2017. Their average score was 21.4, which is the same as the statewide average — up from 19.6 the previous year.
Belleville East’s 387 students tested from the class of 2017 averaged a score of 21.3. The school’s class of 2016 had an average score of 20.2.
When Belleville East’s and Belleville West’s 2016 graduates were tested, 410 more students took the ACT.
The decline in the number of students taking the ACT in Illinois is expected to continue for the next graduating class. In the 2016-17 school year, Illinois public schools gave all of their juniors the SAT. Those juniors will make up the class of 2018.
While more than 150 school districts paid for the class of 2017’s ACT tests, only 32 districts paid for the class of 2018’s, according to the ACT spokesperson.
Local high schools started adjusting to the switch to SAT when it was announced in 2016. They administered the new test for the first time on April 5, 2017. Students can still pay to take the ACT, too, or to take the SAT additional times, if they want to.
Johnson’s advice for future high school students taking the ACT is “just practice.”
“There’s a million resources out there,” Johnson said.
He advises students go online or to the library. “Make sure you’re reading all the time” because questions in three of the ACT’s sections are based on texts: science, English and reading, he said.
The SAT also requires reading, asking students to support their answers with information from provided texts in some sections.
Colleges and test scores
All U.S. colleges accept ACT or SAT scores, according to act.org and collegeboard.org.
Students can use their highest score when they’re applying for colleges.
McKendree University students score a 25 on average on the ACT. But the Lebanon university doesn’t require prospective students to submit their ACT or SAT scores if they had at least a 3.0 GPA in high school.
If students don’t submit test scores, they won’t be eligible for some McKendree scholarships, according to the university’s website.
Lindenwood University Belleville’s minimum admission requirements for freshmen include an ACT score of 20 — or 920 on the SAT.
Students’ SAT scores have not yet been released from testing in 2017.
Because the SAT is both a college entrance exam and Illinois’ new state assessment, those test scores will also be used to determine whether high school students meet state standards. But the state board is still working out what the benchmarks will be.
The board was seeking educators to help with the SAT standard-setting process, which is Sept. 25-29.
The following are the average composite ACT scores for area high school graduates:
Class of 2017
Class of 2016
Belleville East High
21.3 for 387 students
20.2 for 546 students
Belleville West High
21.4 for 327 students
19.6 for 578 students
19.7 for 40 students
19.1 for 71 students
East St. Louis Senior High
No students tested
No students tested
First Baptist Academy
26.9 for 16 students
23.7 for 11 students
22 for 44 students
19.4 for 59 students
Marissa Senior High
20.1 for 20 students
18.6 for 32 students
22.4 for 193 students
21.9 for 277
New Athens High
21.1 for 29 students
19.3 for 38 students
O'Fallon Township High
24.5 for 423 students
23 for 595 students
20.9 for 289 students
19.7 for 466 students
East Alton-Wood River High
17.8 for 110 students
17.8 for 122 students
24 for 499 students
23.2 for 600 students
Father McGivney Catholic High
25.14 for 25 students
24 for 17 students
Granite City High
20.5 for 177 students
19 for 286 students
23.1 for 173 students
21.3 for 247 students
Madison Senior High
17.2 for 27 students
15.5 for 25 students
Metro-East Lutheran High
23.7 for 62 students
23.3 for 46 students
22.3 for 185 students
21.1 for 292 students
23.3 for 138 students
22.3 for 174 students
22.4 for 32 students
21.9 for 41 students
23.2 for 165 students
21.6 for 198 students
19.6 for 14 students
19.2 for 19 students
Red Bud High
21.6 for 55 students
19.1 for 104 students
19.7 for 30 students
18.5 for 101 students
20.67 for 24 students
20.26 for 35 students
Central Community High
21.5 for 113 students
20.7 for 129 students
Mater Dei Catholic High
24.4 for 115 students
24.4 for 110 students
Wesclin Senior High
23.4 for 70 students
20.7 for 100 students
21.4 for 134,901 students
20.8 for 156,403 students
21 for 2 million students
20.8 for 2 million students
Source: Area schools; not all metro-east scores were available at press time
Compare the tests
Evidence-based reading and writing, math and an optional essay
English, reading, math, science and an option writing test
Paper and pencil
Paper and pencil
Total testing time
3 hours (plus 50 minutes with optional essay)
2 hours and 55 minutes (plus 40 minutes with optional writing portion)
Scale from 400 to 1600
Scale from 1 to 36
Sources: collegeboard.org and act.org.