For the second year in a row, ACT test scores have dropped at , but school officials say one needs to look beyond the numbers to get a clearer picture of why that's happening.
The district's composite score on the college-admittance exam in 2011, which was released last week, was 24.0 - down from 24.4 in 2010 and 25.2 in 2009.
Not only was this year's score the lowest at Nicolet in at least 15 years, but it also was lower than other area high schools. For example, Shorewood had a composite score of 24.7 and Homestead High School in Mequon scored 25.6. Whitefish Bay had the highest score of any school in the state this year: 26.6.
Among North Shore schools, only Brown Deer had a lower score than Nicolet, coming in at 20.7.
But Nicolet District Administrator Rick Monroe says there's no need for alarm over the school's declining scores.
"I’m not concerned, but I am planning on analyzing the information to understand how our kids are doing," he said, adding that there are many factors that could impact the scores.
"One thing I do want to look at is how did our top students perform on the ACT," Monroe said. "The kids in the top 50 percent, what are their ACT scores like? I expect and anticipate that our top students scored as high as the top students at any of our comparable schools."
Are students prepared for high school?
One reason for the lower test scores could be that some students come to Nicolet unprepared for high school, said School Board President Marilyn Franklin.
That's an ongoing issue that Nicolet is working to resolve, she added.
"The board is cognizant that many students come in below grade level reading level, and that has an impact on their achievement," Franklin said. "Nicolet is working to help these students so they can achieve at a higher level."
The ACT reading scores reflect the same trend as the composite scores. The 23.8 score in reading in 2011 is the lowest it has been in 15 years.
"We’ve always had students who are probably underprepared for high school," Monroe said. "This year, we have more resources being directed toward that with our Reading 180 program. We are definitely paying attention to the kids who are entering the school with reading deficiencies, but again, I don’t think that’s new. I think we’ve always had some students who were not reading at grade level."
Nicolet grads still getting into top colleges
While the ACT test scores have been dropping, Monroe pointed out that many Nicolet graduates have no problem getting into the best colleges in the country.
"Just based on the number of students who got admitted to UW-Madison, we’ve got students admitted to Princeton, Harvard," Monroe said. "We have kids getting into the most prestigious colleges in the country, the most competitive colleges in the country...that wouldn’t happen if they weren’t scoring well on college entrance exams. So, that’s why I’m not concerned by our overall comprehensive score."
Setting the bar high
While many schools strive solely to meet state standards, Monroe said the the bar is a bit higher for Nicolet - always has been and always will be.
"The bar for Nicolet is not looking at the state standards, but our own standards, which are much higher than the state standards," he said. "We may be way above state standards depending on the population of students we’re looking at. That’s why we really need to take some time and really do a through analysis."
Here's a breakdown of Nicolet's ACT scores over the last five years.Year English Math Reading Science Composite 2011 23.9
Source: Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction