You're probably asking, "How could that be?" We're talking about Unified, after all, the district that's mismanaged, has too many administrators, a corrupt teacher's union, bad students, crumbling buildings, old textbooks, an uncaring public and a reputation that scares away good students to private and parochial schools. (Does that cover all of the standard criticisms, anonymous commenters?)
But then you get a nice reality check. For the second day in a row, Unified has some great news to share. This time, the district's average ACT scores increased 0.2 percent to 21.3. The state average remains a point higher at 22.3 (no change from last year), but Unified posted some impressive gains.
Park and Case high saw their scores increase, on average, by 0.5 and 0.9 percent respectively. And, most impressively, the number of students taking the ACT increased from 677 in 2007 to 755 in 2008.
One of the easiest ways to increase average scores on a test like the ACT is to discourage poorer students from taking the exam. That way, the higher scores lift the average and make the district look better. In Unified's case, it got more students to take the exam and increased its scores.
So why do we care about ACT scores? Because they are a gateway to college. Just about anybody who wants to pursue a bachelor's degree takes the ACT as part of the application process. More students taking the test means more students looking beyond high school.
Unified is helping students study for the ACT. Here's a description of the pilot program started over the summer:
The District’s approach to preparing students for the ACT continued with summer school in 2008. The Princeton Review of ACT program was piloted in summer school with 65 junior and senior students in attendance. The three-week program was optional for students who had a grade point average of 2.5 or above. A number of students demonstrated score gains of 2-4 points with one student attaining a 7-point increase. District staff are planning to continue this option in 2009.Like any urban school district, Unified has challenges. But here's a secret: For most students, Racine's public schools work. Opportunities are available, and thousands of students take advantage of those opportunities every year. Somewhere along the way, we've let people worried about property taxes and administrative costs control the dialogue on public education in Racine. Whoever the new superintendent is should turn the focus to what's going right in the schools and celebrate public education in Racine.
Let's be positive.