ACT, now required of all juniors, measures college readiness
Nearly 400 Sanpete students take test, which influences college admission, scholarships
Last week was an anxious time for local high school juniors—and it wasn’t just pre-prom jitters.
Juniors at all three public high schools in the county had to get through the ACT tests earlier in the week.
The ACT (American College Testing) is designed to test college readiness. It measures students’ abilities in math, English, reading and science. A perfect ACT score is 36. Last year the average composite score for Utah was 20.2.
A lot can rest on the scores, which weigh heavily in admissions and scholarships at colleges and universities. For the last two years, the state has required all juniors to take the test and has funded their participation.
Before it became mandatory, South Sanpete School Superintendent Kent Larsen said probably only about 50 percent of students in his district took the ACT.
“It’s really important,” he said of the test. “No one asks about GPAs. It’s all about your ACT scores and the level of classes you took.”
All of the schools work hard preparing their students to take the ACT. Like many other schools, Sanpete schools heavily utilize websites such as Navian.com, Shmoop.com, and ACT.com, which each have practice tests and other exercise to help students get ready.
At North Sanpete High School, where 146 juniors took the test, the students were required to attend ACT preparation classes during the school’s “flex time” (a daily half-hour period that can be used as needed) two days a week for four weeks leading up to the test itself. Last year the school’s average ACT composite score was 18.4.
It “kind of goes up and down,” NSHS counselor Ben Cox said of the average score.
At Manti High, where 163 students took the test, core subject teachers worked with students to prepare by administering pretests and having students study materials on Shmoop.com. The school’s 2016 average ACT composite score was 18.9.
At Gunnison Valley High School, where the 2016 average ACT composite score was 19.2, teachers have also tried to incorporate ACT preparation into their regular classes. This year about 80 juniors took the test.
“Our Math 3 teacher, Mark Otten, subscribes to the philosophy that a little bit often is the best preparation,” GVHS counselor Andy Peterson said. “He uses ACT problems as classroom activities to determine thinking errors. Our English 11 teacher, Max Sanders, focuses on grammatical strategies along with punctuation rules. Similar to Math 3, these types of learning activities provide transitions within the classroom and are in addition to the regular focus on literature.”
Most students hoping to go to college take the test more than once.
“We really encourage everyone to retake it if they’re planning to go on to college,” Cox said. “For many of these students, it (means) potentially large sums of money in scholarships.”
In fact, last year, NSHS they paid for sophomores in the college and career readiness class to take the ACT. Cox said the school hopes to have the funding to do it again this year.
“It’s probably far more important than it should be. Just so much hinges on it,” Cox said.
In all three schools, the number of graduating seniors going on to Snow College or other colleges or universities right out of high school or shortly after returning from LDS missions is high, generally around 70 to 75 percent.