ACT scores fail to impress

Superintendent pushes for higher scores, full participation

Aug. 26, 2009

Wauwatosa School District's recently graduated seniors averaged a composite score of 23.6 on the 36-point ACT college entrance test, just shy of their predecessors' average score of 23.8. And while those scores outpace the state and national averages, Superintendent Phil Ertl sees plenty of room for improvement.

"When I look at it, that's not acceptable," he said. "We need to continue the growth."

The district's goal is a composite average score of 26 points, he said.

Adding additional standardized exams, like ACT's PLAN and EXPLORE tests, will help students plan better for high school and be better prepared for the ACT, he said.

Average of 26 not unheard of

Elsewhere in the area, Elmbrook students averaged a composite score of 24.4. In Greenfield, the average was 20.6. West Allis students averaged 21.7, Whitefish Bay students averaged 26.1 and Shorewood students averaged 25.9.

Public school students statewide averaged a composite score of 22.2, down from 22.3 last year, according to data recently released by the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction. Students nationwide averaged 21.1 for the second consecutive year.

ACT scores are sent to universities to aid in admissions decisions. The average admitted freshman at the University of Wisconsin-Madison scores between 26 and 30 on their ACT. At UW-Milwaukee, the average admitted freshman scores between 17 and 20.

East, west divide

Scores at Wauwatosa East High School fell in all areas but reading, where the average score held at 24.2. Composite scores averaged 23.6 at East, a 0.6 point decrease from last year.

Nick Hughes, principal at East, called the dip in scores "significant."

"As always we look at these scores and we say, 'We can do better,' " he said.

Hughes said he hopes to use data from the test results to improve student education. He declined to comment further without first discussing the matter with his staff.

In direct contrast to the results at East, scores at Wauwatosa West High School improved in every area but reading, where the score fell to 23.5 from 23.7 last year. West students averaged a composite 23.5, a 0.1 point increase.

Patricia Luebke, principal at West, said she was pleased with the slight increase in composite scores; 2009 was the third consecutive year scores have improved.

Luebke said she plans to meet with staff this week to discuss the results.

Participation a goal

ACT participation was down districtwide: 68.9 percent of graduating seniors took the test, down from 69.5 percent last year. At the school level, participation went up at West from 65.8 percent to 68 percent. At East, 69.9 percent of students took the test, down from 72.9.

Statewide, 57 percent of graduates took the test. Nationwide, 45 percent of students took the ACT; the ACT is just one of several college entrance tests and the popularity of its use varies by region.

Ertl said the district's goal is to have 100 percent of students take the ACT, including those who do not plan to attend college. The test serves as valuable preparation for students regardless of their post-graduate plans.

By the numbers

Wauwatosa School District scores vs. state scores


2008-09 (2007-08)



(last year)


(last year)


(last year)


(last year)
District 23.6 (23.8) 23.8 (24) 22.9 (23) 23.9 (24.3) 23 (23.3)
West 23.5 (23.4) 23.5 (23.7) 22.8 (22.5) 23.9 (23.8) 23.2 (22.9)
East 23.6 (24.2) 24.2 (24.2) 23 (23.5) 24 (24.7) 22.9 (23.6)
State 22.2 (22.3) 22.5 (22.5) 21.5 (21.6) 22.1 (22.3) 22.3 (22.3)
* Numbers taken from the state Department of Public Instruction Web site, include public schools only

At a glance


Number of 12th-graders

enrolled (last year)

Number tested

(last year)


(last year)
District 560 (573) 386 (398) 68.9 (69.5)
West 284 (278) 193 (183) 68 (65.8)
East 276 (295) 193 (215) 69.9 (72.9)
State 71,074 (71,834) 40,635 (40,045) 57.2 (55.7)
* Numbers taken from the state Department of Public Instruction Web site, include public schools only


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