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Graph by Eric Crump/HF Chronicle

The Homewood-Flossmoor Class of 2014 had 711 graduates, and 95 percent went on to two-year or four-year colleges. The class had an 11 percent acceptance rate at Ivy League colleges, which was well above the national average of 6 percent. Three graduates went to Yale University.

“Not a lot of schools have three from one high school go there (Yale),” said H-F college counselor Kevin Coy. “We had three students go there. We had one at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) and one at Stanford. For us to even get kids to those schools speaks volumes about our school.”

Yet the Illinois State Board of Education’s State Report Card says the ACT scores show just 48 percent of H-F seniors are prepared for college using the ACT College Readiness Benchmarks.

Why the disconnect?

Counselors at H-F say the school is unfairly judged by the outcomes on the ACT exam testing English, math, reading and science proficiency. The state mandates that all juniors take the test. In 2015, the national average score for the ACT is 21. The average score for H-F students was 20.7, which is also the Illinois state average.

H-F counselors and the Assessment Department staff all said this is comparing apples and oranges. One test doesn’t tell you what’s going on at H-F.

“Collectively 83 to 86 percent of our graduates matriculate from freshman to sophomore year (in college). If we have only 48 percent (college-ready), then why do we have double that?” Coy wondered.

Assessment Department Chair David Kush argued that the 48 percent figure is accurate but means only this: 48 percent of H-F students scored 21 or above on the ACT.

Kush explained that ACT College Readiness Benchmarks use scores on the English, math, reading and science portions that would correspond with passing rates in typical ‘101’ level college courses, such as English composition and college algebra. 

“That is, a student who met the College Readiness Benchmark had a 75 percent chance of getting a C or better in the entry-level college course for that subject.  The college-ready label, especially considering this ACT definition, is not nearly as clear or obvious, since there is so much variation across schools,” Kush said.

“The issue remains: these scores are not best predictors of college success, especially since college success will depend a great deal on different (student) motivation and skills than those measured by the ACT.  Nonetheless, for several years the state used the College Readiness Benchmarks from ACT as the measurement for Illinois,” Kush noted. 

Under the current system, schools meeting the ACT national average score of 21 are considered to have 100 percent college readiness. Kush says schools with a 20 ACT score would have, hypothetically, zero readiness.

“There would literally be a one-point difference between the students’ actual performance but a 100 percent swing in the rate of college readiness. Given that the ability of the scores to predict college success is questionable, the results of the comparison are even more inaccurate,” he argued.

“I feel like the ACT, in the colleges’ mindset, is the one (test) that everyone is on a level playing field. I don’t agree that it’s a level playing field but I think everybody for the most part takes it,” Coy said.

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