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Test scores are rocketing

It wasn’t too many years ago when it was rare for Nebraska to have one or two high school seniors achieve a perfect score of 36 on the widely-used ACT college entrance examination.

But times have changed.

In 2018, 22 seniors achieved the perfect score on the test.

But that was nothing compared to this year when the record was doubled and 44 students — mostly in Lincoln and Omaha — scored a 36.

Given that, is it accurate to still call that a rare feat?

It’s also pertinent to note that the number of students scoring 32 or better increased almost 50 percent between 2013 and 2018. And the number of students scoring a near-perfect 35 on the test rose more than 90 percent during those same years.

Good news, right? Yes, but there are some reasons for concern.

Recent media reports identified a number of factors contributing to the increase. A big one is that the Nebraska State Board of Education adopted the ACT exam in 2016 as the required assessment for all juniors to take.

Although some school districts or teachers may disagree, it means that more schools are “teaching to the test” — narrowing their curriculums in order to focus on areas included in the ACT exam.

But there are other factors. For example, more students are using, and more schools offering, ACT-preparation courses and materials. The test prep helps students become familiar with the kind of test questions they’ll encounter.

And more students enrolling in tough core classes like Advanced Placement courses, which ACT links to higher scores.

Nebraska Commissioner of Education Matt Blomstedt said he is pleased with the gains, but he’s concerned about state schools deliberately concentrating on the ACT exam in their curriculums.

“That’s something we have to continue to watch and defend against,” the commissioner said.

But he shouldn’t be surprised. After all, there’s pressure — from parents, if no one else — on school districts to do well in statewide rankings released by the state education department.

Whatever the reasons or factors behind it, we believe it will accelerate the trend of more colleges and universities downplaying ACT scores and looking more closely at other factors when making decisions on admissions and scholarships.

There’s much more to evaluate in a student than just how well he or she does on a standardized test.

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