Nicolet School Chief Not Worried About Falling ACT Scores

Board president says 15-year low in scores may be a result of some incoming students not being ready for high school.

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
2010 24.5
2009 25.4
2008 24.8
2007 24.4
Source: Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction
Sarah Worthman August 23, 2011 at 04:58 PM
Thanks for the comment, Michael. Do you think new technology is important to schools though, to keep them up-to-date? What should be their biggest priorities?
Larry Booth August 23, 2011 at 10:27 PM
Once again the School Board and administration absolve themselves and the teachers of any responsibility for the low test scores. Get your heads out of the sand and start looking at the teachers and how you assess them. They are the highest paid teachers in the state and the taxpayers who are paying for them deserve nothing less than exceptional results. The other area schools are producing much better results for far less expense. It's time the Nicolet School Board stopped making excuses for the teachers and start demanding results.
Dave Koven August 24, 2011 at 04:32 PM
If only kids were like "widgets" in a factory. Everything would be so predictable then. No one absolves the teachers of anything, but make sure the kids are coming to school ready to learn and focused. Kids are all different in their abilities and resources. Some are just "late bloomers". Whatever comes in through the schoolhouse door is what the teacher has to work with. It's surprising that they do as well as they do.
Sarah Worthman August 24, 2011 at 04:34 PM
Thanks for the comment, Larry. You mention that you believe other schools are essentially doing more with less. How would you like to see Nicolet allocate their resources to improve ACT test scores?
Sarah Worthman August 24, 2011 at 04:35 PM
Thanks for the comment Dave. So do you think Nicolet is doing a good job with what they have, and it's more the different classes of kids that come through changing every year? What do you think causes the lower scores?
Dave Koven August 24, 2011 at 04:47 PM
There are so many variables that could account for differing test scores, that it would be hard to count them (e.g. illness, skipped breakfast, not enough sleep the night before, broke up with girlfriend/boyfriend, overachievement burnout, etc). Most Nicolet grads do very well in college. They are well prepared, but the bell curve doesn't just go away because it's politically incorrect to remember that there is a left side to the curve too.
Sarah Worthman August 24, 2011 at 04:54 PM
Do you think special education kids should be encouraged to take the ACT, even though it will potentially bring down the school's composite score?
Dave Koven August 24, 2011 at 05:15 PM
You could encourage them to take the test, like the rest of the kids, but it is unfair to the student and the teachers to treat their test results as if the student didn't have an exceptionality. There are rare instances where a student could be ADD/ADHD and Gifted, for example, and his/her test results might help the total student's results. Is this fair? You might look at the special ed. kids' results separately from the rest of the school to see if progress is being made in the special ed. area. I don't know how much mainstreaming Nicolet does with its students, but special ed. students have been identified as such for a reason. I feel it would be unfair to include their results with the general population of students for both sides.
Larry Booth August 24, 2011 at 05:48 PM
Dave, you are missing the point, The other area schools are drawing from the same pool of students (in fact, Nicolet's pool may be better than most) and the schools are spending much less per pupil, but their student's performance is much better than Nicolet's students. That tells me the problem is not with the students but with the way they are being taught.
Dave Koven August 24, 2011 at 06:28 PM
Larry, please refer back to my comments on all the variables in play. In any given year, a teacher could have a wonderful group of students or a really tough one. There may be ways to save a few bucks by managing supplies, activities, or utilities, but rates of learning are often outside the teacher's ability to influence. No teacher wants their kids to do badly, but there are limits on just what a teacher can or cannot do. Often, these are the things that would influence the test results . It would be lovely to be able to kick disrupters out of class, never more to be seen, or tell the parents exactly what effect their bad parenting is having on their child. Sometimes a good swat on the rear at a "prime teachable moment" would be exactly what the doctor ordered. BUT, try any of these things, and the teacher is in trouble. It comes back to the maturity level of the kids as individuals. Some years the kids are "school-ready", and some years they're not.
acm August 26, 2011 at 01:13 PM
This article is only about ACT scores, not SAT scores. Many highly prestigious and competitive colleges either prefer the SAT, or require the SAT only. It is a more comprehensive test of true ability and predictable measure of college success than the ACT. Since many of Nicolet's grads plan to attend these schools--and actually are accepted to them, as well............these better scholars don't even take the ACT. So, don't just assume that these score averages include all the best students in the school.
acm August 26, 2011 at 01:27 PM
Larry, I'm guessing that you haven't had a kid in any North Shore school in at least 10 years. Lots of things in our schools have changed since then. The number of MPS Open Enrollment kids in the North Shore grammar schools has definitely changed the the "ultimate gross product" of our 8th graders. The MPS kids who fill our classrooms without prior comparable education, changes the target level of a class that the teachers aim for. To some extent, they teach to the "middle" level of a class. Well, that middle level is lower than it used to be. Not every 8th grader that the feeder schools produce is as "ready" or as far along as they used to be. The high school has little or no influence over what the middle schools teach these kids. Remember there are 4 school districts here, pretty much doing their own thing for their own reasons. And we allow them to claim that they are all unique and different , but once those kids become freshman..........now we treat them all the same. Larry, you criticize in sweeping generalizations. In spite of your loud and harsh criticism, you are not at any of the school board meetings, are you??
acm August 26, 2011 at 01:35 PM
Sarah, why would you propose that more Special Ed kids take the ACT?? Don't you think that if those students are potentially college bound that they already are taking the ACT? Realize that, in fact, several of them do take this test and do go to college. Not every Special Ed student has limited cognitive abilities that excludes them from a college education future. For those who simply cannot pursue college, what would be the point of taking the ACT College Entrance Exam?
Jay Sykes August 26, 2011 at 02:21 PM
acm... Do you think the ratio of SAT vs ACT takers changes significantly from year to year? I'm sure Nicolet could release this statistic too;especially if it explained the drop in the scores.
acm August 26, 2011 at 02:34 PM
yes, Jay, I think the number does vary quite a bit. I doubt if this is a number that the school would even keep any records for. The SAT was radically revamped a couple of years ago. New test sections were added, and not every college requires every section, but some require particular sections. You wouldn't even recognize the scoring, if you have kids more than 21 years old. I think these kind of statistics would require a long page of explanatory footnotes---not exactly newsworthy for most of our local media, since they seem to think that most of their readers have ADD. They do seem to pander to their readers with extremely short articles, measured in keystrokes.
Larry Booth August 27, 2011 at 12:11 AM
Dave and ACM; both of you blame the quality of students for the low scores at Nicolet but continue to ignore the fact that schools such as Shorewood and Whitefish Bay also have MPS students but manage to produce much better test results for a much lower cost per student. And, ACM, concerning my attendance at School Board meetings --- a lot of good that will do when the meetings are stacked with union sympathizers and run by School Board members who are back-slappin' buddies with the union leadership. I've seen what happens when a reasonable person asks a question or makes a suggestion that offends the union; he gets booed by the sympathizers and politely ignored by the Board. At least in this forum I have an opportunity to make my voice heard and have an impact on the discussion.
acm August 27, 2011 at 12:59 AM
Larry, Here's the numbers....right from the Dept of Public Instruction website: for the 2010-2011 school year, WFB had 84 Open Enrollment student transfers into their district, Mequon-Thiensville had 36, Shorewood had 221, the combined total for FP/Bayside, Maple Dale, Glendale, and Nicolet was 290. Do you really think that the high school can "fix" what the middle schools couldn't accomplish as far as delivering the highest quality freshman with out-of-district enrollment numbers like this? These numbers clearly show that Nicolet and the North Shore feeder schools are not similar to the others that you insist on comparing with. Again, your generalized criticism lacks substance. As far as going to the school board meetings, you can learn alot about the pulse of the community and the school from just listening to the dialogue on the agenda items. When you invest in attending a year's worth of those meetings--especially some of the subcommittee meetings, your criticisms will likely be met with more validity.
Jay Sykes August 27, 2011 at 01:28 AM
@acm... How do the OE numbers work out as percentages? Does Nicolet only take OE students that started at 3 feeder districts or do they add to it?
acm August 27, 2011 at 01:30 AM
Larry, when an student transfers in through Open Enrollment, our districts are not paid by the student's home district the full cost of our districts' expense per student. So every MPS transfer-in is subsidized by a couple thousand $$ through our property taxes. To make matters worse, when we send a North Shore kid out of our school district, we send money with them to their new district. The same DPI spread sheet where I found the above student transfer numbers, indicated 42 students from Glendale-River Hills District enrolled somewhere else last year. Their Spring School Board minutes mentioned that 19 more students applied to leave the district. That translates to GDRH having even more room next year to take MPS Open Enrollees, because the state will make them, because there will be room.....and the classroom populations will change some more........... THIS is the kind of thing that Should get you mad. If this doesn't explain a source of future lackluster ACT scores, I don't know what does.
acm August 27, 2011 at 01:45 AM
Jay, you can't just look at the OE enrollment number at NHS as an isolated or even particularly relevant number in this discussion. By the time the 8th graders become freshman, the damage is already done to them with a compromised curriculum, or compromised classroom expectations, at the middle school level. Those standardized test scores that the grade school kids come up with every couple years, influences what path their teachers take the next year. A high school has to work with what they are delivered in a freshman class. Actually NHS determines their own OE openings. Their enrollees are chosen independently from the OE students that were in any feeder school. Just because someone was an OE student in a feeder school, they have no better chance to fill an OE spot at the high school, since NHS is a completely separate district. NHS only had 16 Open Enrollment students attend in 2010-2011. There's no way to tell if any of them were OE students in any of our feeder schools, unless NHS would tell you-if they even knew. (FP/Bay 78, GDRH 131, MD 65)
acm August 27, 2011 at 02:08 AM
Jay, the most frustrating part of this whole scenario is how the number of the OE students (which can be nearly 10% of a feeder district) changes the outcome of our own district children's education. And, yes, it is showing in some ACT scores, and perhaps even in the quantity of National Merit Scholars. NHS was able to release a large group photo of those smartees, year after year. But not any more. And those kids were the high scorers on a test that they took in Oct of their Junior year, before they even cracked a book in most AP courses. Again, thank the middle schools for changing their course, I think. This isn't about the number of OE kids who take the ACT, but rather, how their growing presence in the lower grades, changes the ACT results for those who do take the test.
Jay Sykes August 27, 2011 at 02:42 AM
acm...Actually,I was curious what the k-12 (Nicolet+feeders) percentage of OE vs WFB;Mequon;Shorewood, as their ACT scores did not drop. Also, starting in 1976, chapter 220 students made up 5-15 percent of the students in the k-12 Nicolet districts, is the OE kind of a 'substitute' for the 220 program, when it comes to assessing the quality of the transfer-in students?
acm August 27, 2011 at 03:21 AM
Jay, you can look up those district's student population on their district websites, and figure it out--but I know the % is no where near as high as the NHS feeder schools. Wisconsin Dept of Public Instruction on the web is full of facts and stats, too. The 220 Program was about getting a racial integration balance into the schools, since the suburbs didn't have too many resident minorities at the time. And yes, those kids came from MPS. OE does not have any racial integration component or objective. But, yes, 98+% of the OE transfers-in to our schools are from MPS. But suburban students can apply to OE in any other suburban school district, and many do that. Bayside and Maple Dale OE stats include Glendale kids who left Glen Hills or Parkway. Likewise, WFB and Shorewood stats can include other suburban OE kids, too, not just MPS transfers. Several of the OE stats in our feeder schools include Special Ed kids, since our Special Ed teachers and programs are considered highly sought after destinations by some parents.
Larry Booth August 27, 2011 at 04:10 PM
acm; Thank you for the statistics. You said the feeder schools to Nicolet had 290 Open Enrollment students, however the DPI website says Nicolet itself had only 16 OE students out of a population of 1,310 total students. Why is there a difference?
acm August 27, 2011 at 07:52 PM
Larry: you are correct NHS only had 16 of the 290 OE's calculated from the total of the 4 districts, including the 3 feeders and NHS combined. Why the big difference? Well the number of OE slots is based on some complicated state formula that has something to do with maximizing student to teacher ratios. So it would appear that NHS has run a pretty tight ship, maxing out that ratio on its own, so they don't have to lose money on the OE imports, and minimize the academic effects of the poorly prepared incalcitrants in the classroom. So, it would appear that you should direct your ire to the middle schools, who have had such a high student to teacher ratio, that they were forced to accept these high numbers of OE's. GDRH had to replace 8 teachers for this year. In spite of being some of the highest paid in the state, they still bail, and take jobs in other districts for $10K less. Go spend a day observing in a middle school, then come back and tell us how the big problems are at NHS. By the way, WFB's OE's are only 3% of enrollment. GDRH's is 11%.
Jay Sykes August 27, 2011 at 08:51 PM
@acm...So now that we are in the mess,how do we reduce the number of OE students without increasing the class size or the cost per student? FYI:Both Maple Dale and FP/Bayside still accept k-4 chapter 220 students too.
Larry Booth August 27, 2011 at 09:12 PM
ACM: So let me get this straight. First you blame it on MPS Open Enrollment students for the low scores at Nicolet, which the State DPI numbers show is not true. So lacking that fall guy, you change your story and now say it's the middle school's fault that the students at Nicolet are not doing as well as other area schools. I guess next you're going to tell me it's the parent's fault. I have one for you --- how about looking at the teachers, the administration and the School Board at Nicolet and asking some tough questions of why a school such as Shorewood with 33% MPS students gets better performance out of their students than Nicolet with just 1% MPS students? I greatly admire teachers and the tough job they have, but when taxpayers are paying their teachers the highest salaries in the state and not getting the highest performance from their students it's time to stop making excuses and to start asking some tough questions of the people who run the school. When other schools are doing much better with much less there is an obvious problem at Nicolet that needs correcting. Please, ACM, no more excuses. We taxpayers are tired of it.
acm August 27, 2011 at 09:18 PM
As for the OE "mess", as you refer to it,,,you're right, if a district would try to phase it down or out, class size and cost per student could go up. But first, how about satsifying the families who have already, or who are threatening to pull theirs kids out of their district schools and OE somewhere else (or go to private schools) might be a start. A potential 59 kids from GDRH will be attending somewhere else through OE. Forty-two already do. A public discussion about this would be a good start. Then, teacher lay-offs might be needed to run a lean machine just for the resident kids and those OE's already in, for awhile. Then, I think the schools could restore environment, academics, and public faith. Who knows, test scores might even rise? I know this is not the party line of a school administrator. They are long term optimists. I'm just a parent with a short time horizon, til my kid "ages out."
acm August 27, 2011 at 09:20 PM
As for MD and FP/B and the 220 subject, it sounds like they have older siblings already enrolled under Ch 220, so the younger siblings are grandfathered in. If not, I guess those districts still don't have enough resident minorities, and the 220 money is still flowing in. I though 220 was over, except for the sibling issue, which will eventually age out.
acm August 27, 2011 at 09:35 PM
Larry--did you read anything above??? I never said that OE at the high school was to blame. By the time the 8th graders get to the high school the damage has already been done to them by the effects of the mess that OE causes in the middle schools, rendering alot of these kids not ready for high school. Plus, you're not reading the data right at all! The Shorewood OE number is the OE total for the whole K-12 district, not just the high school. DPI does not show the OE number for the high school alone. Do you really think that a high school can fix a poorly prepared 8th grader? And don't forget those ACT's have to be taken by Fall of Senior year, so you expect miracles in 3 years?? Do you possibly have a personal issue with how NHS did or didn't measure up to your expectations for one or more of your own children?


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