ACT scores assess high school students’ general educational development and ability to complete college-level work. Unlike an aptitude or reasoning test, the ACT is designed to be an achievement test, measuring what a student has learned in school. The ACT consists of multiple-choice questions. ACT results are reported on a scale of 1 to 36, with 36 being the highest possible score. Visit the ACT Web site for more information.
Sounds great, right?
Except for what’s missing – like how PWCS fared when compared with Virginia as a whole on the ACT and how the other seven Prince William County public high schools fared on the ACT. One look at those scores and you understand why.
PWCS scored below Virginia averages in every content area tested on the ACT. Let me say that again, and in bold, because it’s really important. PWCS scored below Virginia averages in every content area tested on the ACT. The other 7 PWC high schools that weren’t listed in the press release scored below county and US averages in every content area tested on the ACT, with the exception of Woodbridge HS, which scored above US averages but below state and county averages.
Unlike the SOL, the ACT is a voluntary test, so these scores represent our top tier students, the students we’d expect to go to college. And in that top tier group, ACT scores only exceed state averages in 4 of our 11 high schools; that’s 36%. The other 7, 64%, are below state averages.
Still feel like cheering?
We saw the same approach with SOL scores. PWCS reported how well our students performed relative to state averages. A school board member reported on his facebook page that PWCS had exceeded state averages in 21 of 28 areas tested, and proclaimed success!
What we weren’t told, again, was the most telling.
Yes, pass rates were above state averages in 21 of 28 areas tested, but we were below state averages in 7 of the 9 areas tested in High School. That kind of explains why our SAT and ACT scores continue to lag behind state averages.
Yes, quoting the school division’s press release, “PWCS students achieved higher pass rates than the state on all elementary math tests”. Unfortunately, pass rates were below state averages in 4 of the 9 areas tested for Math, and below state averages in all of the High School level math subjects tested on the SOL.
Yes, Reading scores went up after several consecutive years of declining, but they were up by the same margin statewide, so that increase may be due to a testing irregularity as opposed to the results of improved instruction.
When compared with other school divisions in our area, our test scores only exceeded Manassas and Manassas Park. Our pass rates were below Fauquier, Fairfax, Loudoun, and Stafford on just about every subject tested on the SOL. We’ve been below Fairfax and Loudoun for years, but Fauquier and Stafford have only recently begun to kick our butts. At one point a few years ago our SOL scores in Math were close to Loudoun’s. Not so much anymore.
Which bring me to another, final point. Why do we compare ourselves with Virginia averages and then declare success when we do about average for Virginia? We’re one of the most affluent counties in the state. Like our neighbors in Fairfax, Loudoun, and Stafford, our citizens tend to be highly educated. We should be doing better than average for the state. We should be one of the top performing school divisions in the state. But we’re not.
I can understand accentuating the positive. I totally get that.
But our schools are struggling, especially at the high school level and especially with high school Math. Our SAT and ACT scores show that. They have for years.
So do our SOL scores. They have for years.
But you have to be willing to look at the scores to see that, and I’m not sure PWCS is willing to do that. They’re too busy accentuating the positive to step back and admit that there might be some negative. From what I’ve read, our school division appears to believe that things in our schools are just peachy keen and that average for the state is an acceptable goal.
I think it’s unacceptable.