Washoe School Officials: It's Unclear What Recent ACT Scores Mean

Jul 26, 2016

Credit Alexa Ard

The Washoe County School District has been notified by the state Department of Education that its students are under-prepared for college. That's true, but its not the whole story behind recent ACT test scores for local students. Our contributor Bob Conrad of ThisisReno reports.

School district staff say they were surprised by the results, which show that only 14 percent of 11th graders in the county are meeting college readiness benchmarks. That’s compared to just 10-percent of 11th graders statewide. Ben Hayes is chief accountability officer for the district and says it's unclear how they should interpret those numbers.

"We just don't have the context to make real good use of them yet," he says. "At this point, the school district doesn't know exactly what these data are saying. They're saying something about college readiness for 11th graders, but it's a one-time test when typically a lot of kids will take it two or three times, and they'll take it through the fall of their senior year if not a little bit later."

The ACT is a college admissions test, and the Nevada Legislature mandated two years ago that schools require all high school students to take it.

The thing is, the district already tests 10th grade students using the preliminary SAT, or PSAT, to gauge college readiness and start preparing them for higher education.

Hayes says that he's planning to meet with the state and the ACT test makers to figure out how to best interpret the results for the future.

One reason for the low scores may be the state's new requirement that all students participate.

"So what happens as a result of that is that you now have a lot of unmotivated students taking the test who have no intention of going beyond high school," explains Greg Bortolin, a spokesman for the Nevada Department of Education. "Before this requirement, Nevada's results literally landed about in the middle of the pack."

Despite the legislative change, Bortolin says it's clear that students coming out of high school must be better prepared for what's next.