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SD2's March pandemic shutdown may not have hurt ACT test scores

SD2's March pandemic shutdown may not have hurt ACT test scores

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Scores on the PreACT and ACT standardized tests that Billings high school students took in October showed little impact from schools being shut down in mid-March by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Overall, the average ACT score in the school district was 19.6; last year, the score was 19.5. The highest students can score on the ACT is 36. 

Those scores are recorded with a small asterisk. The ACT is the state's default high school assessment test and is given to juniors every spring. The PreACT is given to sophomores at the same time. 

Schools shut down in March due to the pandemic, so the standardized tests were postponed to the fall. That meant those juniors who would have taken the ACT in March instead took the test in October as seniors. 

Similarly, sophomores who would have taken the PreACT in March ended up taking it in October as juniors. 

When broken down by category, Senior High was the only school to see gains in each subject. Skyview High lost some ground in English but saw moderate gains in math, reading and science. West High saw scores dip in math and reading and saw a bump in science and English. 

The district saw a noticeable jump in its writing scores. The writing portion of the ACT is scored on a scale of 12 points and SD2 high schoolers jumped from 6.1 average in 2019 to 6.5 average in 2020. 

"That's very significant," said Roger Dereszynski, SD2's director of assessment. 

"We're getting better at argumentative writing, which is what the colleges are asking us to do," said SD2 Superintendent Greg Upham.

The district uses ACT scores to measure the college readiness of its students. Readiness benchmarks in the different sections of the ACT predict a student's performance in the correlating college course. 

For example, students who score an 18 on the English portion of the ACT have a 50% chance of earning a B or a 75% chance of earning a C in their college English classes. The benchmark score for math and reading is 22, and for science it's 23.

The percentage of SD2 students who met those benchmarks increased this year — sometimes dramatically. The percentage of students hitting the benchmark in writing jumped a full 10 percentage points, going from 36% to 46%. 

In science, the percentage of students hitting their benchmark jumped from 27% to 31%. In reading, the percentage climbed from 34% to 36%; English inched up from 52% to 53%; math increased from 33% to 36%. 

"It's a little surprising, given the impact COVID (closures) had on math," Dereszynski said. 

Math PreACTs scores among SD2 juniors dropped from a mean of 19.1 in 2019 to 18.8 in 2020. The percentage of students hitting the math target range for the benchmark score in the PreACT dropped from 45% in 2019 to 40% in 2020. 

Overall, the district's mean PreACT score increased from 18.9 in 2019 to 19.4 in 2020. 

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