Metro-East News

Local high school students score higher on ACT as fewer took the exam

O'Fallon High School students score high on ACT. Here's why.

Martha Weld, O'Fallon Township High School Dist. 203 assistant superintendent, explains why she thinks families played a big roles in high ACT scores of students at OTHS.
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Martha Weld, O'Fallon Township High School Dist. 203 assistant superintendent, explains why she thinks families played a big roles in high ACT scores of students at OTHS.

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.

O'Fallon First Baptist Academy students top out with one of highest ACT composite averages of 26.9.

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.

Decline continues

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 and

Students can use their highest score when they’re applying for colleges.

At Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, the typical freshman has an ACT score of about 23.5. The minimum ACT score required to be accepted at SIUE is 17 (or an SAT score of 900).

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.

Lexi Cortes: 618-239-2528, @lexicortes

Robyn L. Kirsch: 618-239-2690, @BND_RobynKirsch

Test results

The following are the average composite ACT scores for area high school graduates:


High school

Class of 2017

Class of 2016

St. Clair

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

Dupo High

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

Lebanon High

22 for 44 students

19.4 for 59 students

Marissa Senior High

20.1 for 20 students

18.6 for 32 students

Mascoutah High

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


Collinsville High

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

Edwardsville High

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

Highland High

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

Triad High

22.3 for 185 students

21.1 for 292 students


Columbia High

23.3 for 138 students

22.3 for 174 students

Valmeyer High

22.4 for 32 students

21.9 for 41 students

Waterloo High

23.2 for 165 students

21.6 for 198 students


Coulterville High

19.6 for 14 students

19.2 for 19 students

Red Bud High

21.6 for 55 students

19.1 for 104 students

Sparta High

19.7 for 30 students

18.5 for 101 students

Steeleville High

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: and