Written by Don Ratzlaff Wednesday, 26 September 2007 04:56
Even in the midst of a successful fall sports schedule, there’s a whole different kind of score that Hillsboro High School administrators are pretty proud of these days.
The school was informed recently that the 2007 senior class recorded a composite score of 24.7 on the ACT, a national test that assesses high school students’ general educational development and their ability to complete college-level work.
The highest possible ACT score is a 36.
Principal Dale Honeck said he believes Hillsboro’s composite score is one of the highest in the state. Certainly compared to the national average of 21.2 and the average score in Kansas if 21.9, Hillsboro High did well.
“Even one point difference is fairly significant when you’re talking about a composite score for 50 kids,” Honeck said.
Just how well the Class of 2007 compares with its statewide peers is not easily ascertained. A spokesperson for the Kansas Department of Education said the privately owned ACT company does not release that information to the public, although most districts will provide their score if asked directly.
What can be proven is that Hillsboro High’s success is no fluke. Its senior classes have scored a composite score of at least 24.0 three of the past five years; its lowest score during that period was 22.8 in 2003.
At the same time, the Class of 2007’s score is not the highest one achieved at HHS, according to Honeck. In his first year as principal, the Class of 2000 scored a 25.0.
“I don’t know if we’ve ever been higher than that,” he said. “But that impressed me so much because where I had come from, if you even had a kid or two who scored a 25, we had a parade on Main Street—not the average of the whole class.”
Secrets to success
What has been the secret of Hillsboro High’s success? It begins with students and families that take education seriously, Honeck said.
“This community has pretty many educated people, on a percentage basis,” Honeck said. “If you added the number of B.A.s, masters and doctorates, you’d have a pretty high percentage in Hillsboro compared to other places.”
That background in turn, has helped to shaped a strong school district over the years, he added.
“You don’t just walk into your junior year and all of a sudden you have knowledge,” Honeck said. “It’s an accumulation of (kindergarten) through (grade) 12. I think it’s a good school system.”
Within that system, HHS helps students interested in college to prepare for the ACT. In that effort, Honeck credits counselor Diana Holub for a lot of the level of success students achieve.
“She counsels every kid one on one,” Honeck said. “A lot of schools will give you the courses for the next year, and then the students checkmark the courses they want to take and turn it into the counselor. If the counselor sees an issue, she may pull one or two kids out and talk to them.
“But all of our kids sit down with (Holub), and that’s where the salesmanship and arm-twisting comes in,” he said with a smile. “She’s very good.”
Holub admitted she does try to convince college-oriented students of the value of taking the upper-level classes that prepare them for the ACT. But she defers credit for seeing it happen so consistently at HHS.
“I just think we have students who are willing to take those upper-level classes,” she said. “The majority of our students are going on to college and they know it’s needed to get into college.”
Another way the district prepares students for ACT success is by participating in Explorer testing as early as the eighth grade. Those tests indicate which students are more likely to have success in college.
Also, a number of HHS teachers incorporate ACT preparation into their course work, Honeck said. It may mean routinely adding a couple of ACT-style questions to the homework assignment, or focusing intentionally on ACT material for a week of two during a semester.
“The more familiar students are with the test ahead of time, the better they tend to do,” Holub said. “They know what type of questions to expect,” Honeck said.
Part of an ethos
Supportive parents, intentional teachers and a persuasive counselor contribute to an ethos at HHS that exceeds the sum of its parts, he added.
“Kids here seem to be interested in higher education—it seems to be the goal for most of our kids,” he said. “And that doesn’t mean it’s bad if a kid doesn’t have that goal and wants to join the military or follow another track.
“But kids who want to go to college are willing to work hard to make it happen.”
During the junior year, many students take the ACT more than once in order to achieve the highest score possible.
Students can be tangibly rewarded for a high ACT score by receiving more scholarship money, or by gaining entrance to the college of their choice. But Honeck said that’s not the only thing that drives student success.
“Why do our kids go in there and give it their best effort?” Honeck asked. “It’s just sort of an attitude about doing the best you can academically. I wouldn’t call it pride, but more like responsibility.”
The same attitude flows over into other areas—including state assessments, where individual results aren’t even released to colleges.
“I’ve always been pretty amazed by that,” Honeck said.
Unlike state assessments, a school district isn’t rewarded or punished monetarily for the ACT scores of its students, Honeck said. But it does benefit indirectly from success.
“It’s a validation of a lot of things,” Honeck said.
Chief among them is the overall quality of the district’s program—something that isn’t necessarily verified by having multiple valedictorians with a 4.0 grade-point average. HHS itself currently has nine students vying for valedictorian honors with a 4.0.
“Homegrown grade reports are pretty inaccurate,” Honeck said. “But here’s how I would validate that: Let’s see how they did against 1.3 million kids that took the ACT. If they’re up at the top, who’s going to argue? They ought to be making good grades.”
Another subtle payoff is the reputation a school develops as families with school children decide where they want to live.
“I hear people say a lot, when kids come into our district, that this is why they moved here over other places,” Honeck said. “People have a high regard for the performance of Hillsboro kids.”
Added Holub: “I think parents who value education will always try to look for a school that does better on tests. I think even among the colleges, we have a reputation that our students are strong in academic areas when they go there.”