College-bound students at Great Bend High School posted higher scores this year on the national ACT test, Principal Tim Friess said. Graduation rates have also increased.
GBHS students’ average scores in English and Math rose by a full point or more this past year, surpassing the state average for the first time in about seven years. Reading scores and the Composite score also increased and surpassed the state average. The only area that did not see improvement was Science.
Friess reported of the scores at Thursday’s Great Bend USD 428 Board of Education meeting, which was held at the high school:
• The average English score increased from 20.8 to 21.8
• Math scores increased from 19.8 to 21.3
• Reading scores increased from 22.2 to 22.9
• Science scores dropped from 20.9 to 20.4
• The GBHS Composite score average rose from 21.1 to 21.7
School board members and administrators noted that improving ACT scores has been an area of emphasis since the scores first fell below the state average. In 2015, the district created a new full-time position and hired Lacy Wolters, a former high-school business teacher, as the first GBHS ACT/Career Coordinator. Wolters’s ACT programs and increased rigor in classes are credited with the higher scores.
“Lacy teaches one section of ACT Academy during the school day as an elective class,” Friess said. “She has 21 students enrolled in that class, which meets every day. She also holds ACT ‘mock’ sessions or ACT practice sessions outside of the school day for any student that wants to prepare for the ACT test with her help.”
In 2018, the Kansas State Department of Education announced that Kansas juniors would be able to take the ACT test and WorkKeys assessment for free, starting in February of 2019. Seniors taking the test for the first time could also do so at no cost.
This year’s graduation rate at GBHS also increased, to 87.3% after hovering closer to 84% for the past few years, Friess said.
“I tell any freshman that the goal is for you to graduate,” Friess said. He tells them, "I want to shake your hand in four years."
Friess said more students are attending the alternative high school at GBHS and those doing so are finishing their classes at a better rate.
The state’s overall four-year adjusted graduation – the percentage of students who graduate “on time” within four years of their freshman year, increased from 80.7% in 2010 to nearly 85% in 2012, and has slowing increased since then to 87.3 in 2018, according to the Kansas Association of School Boards.
Board member Cheryl Rugan noted that the focus on improving ACT scores and graduation rates has continued for the past seven years. She was pleased with the progress.
“That’s the best news I could hear for my last high school board meeting,” she said. Rugan did not seek reelection this year and will go off of the board in December. The board meets once a year at each school in the district.
In 2017, Superintendent Khris Thexton reported that GBHS had seen its ACT Scores creeping downward in the previous five years, with declines across the board. Sixty-three percent of the students graduating in 2017 – 122 of 197 – took the ACT test and their average composite score was 20.4, compared to 21.7 statewide.
The 21.7 state composite score in 2017 was also the lowest in five years; in 2014, the state average was 22.0.
The students with the five lowest ACT scores that year did not attend any of Wolters’s study sessions. Those who took the test as sophomores or juniors, then retook the test the following year, improved their scores. The more study sessions they attended, the greater the improvement.
Earlier this year, Assistant Superintendent John Popp reported that the four-year graduation rate at GBHS rose to 82.7% in 2018 – the highest it had been since 2013 – and that fewer students dropped out in 2018-2019. He expected that trend to continue.
At the time, Popp said he isn’t really sure why fewer kids dropped out, but he suggested a few possible reasons.
“We have increased focus on attendance, and focused on helping kids pass their freshman classes with the freshman academy, the JAG (Jobs for America’s Graduates) program for students who may struggle, and so on,” he said.