Studious students

SUPERINTENDENT Darron Arlt talks about a poster of last year's Junior Class at Plainview High School on Wednesday.

This year, Plainview High School is claiming a state title no school in Nebraska has had the chance to claim before.

Plainview High is claiming a title relating to the ACT college entrance exam that all juniors now are required to take.

It’s being bestowed on the Pierce County school district because last spring, the juniors at Plainview High scored the highest average composite score on the ACT of all school districts in the state.

The then-junior class scored an average composite score of 24.6. The next closest public school — only public school data was available — was Shickley High School, with an average composite score of 23.5.

The ACT test is meant to evaluate college readiness in high school students. It tests students on English, math, reading and science skills. Each section is scored separately and then averaged together to form a composite score. The highest composite score on the ACT is a 36, and typically only a handful of students in Nebraska get the perfect score. Most public universities require scores in the high teens or low 20s to meet admission requirements.

Darron Arlt, superintendent of Plainview Public Schools, said that while Plainview has won state titles and awards in sports and activities in the past, including a state speech victory just last week, this one holds a special place in Plainview history.

“It’s hard to celebrate academic success compared to success on the field or the court or the mat,” Arlt said.

In a hallway near the high school gymnasium hangs a photo of the now-senior class with the record-setting composite score.

“When I first found out, everyone else found out at the same time,” said Patty Novicki, Plainview High principal. “Because I was practically running around and shouting it that day.”

The academic achievement is made even more significant because of changes to state examinations.

For the first time, all high school juniors were required to take the ACT. Before the spring of 2017, juniors took a standardized state test called the Nebraska State Accountability Test, or NeSA. But it has been replaced by a different state test for lower grades and the ACT for juniors.

Because of the greater number of students statewide now taking the test, the anticipation was for scores to drop across the state, and it did, as the state average declined from a composite score of 21.4 to 19.3.

“Plainview has always had high marks in the ACT,” Novicki said. “So we expected good results. But not quite like this.”

Preparing for the ACT is a long process that requires a lot of work in and out of the classroom, Arlt said. Teachers prep for the test in the classroom, but outside the classroom is where students’ accountability is really tested.

Classroom preparation started in the fall, and there were also prep classes after school. Though there were incentives, such a free pizza night at one after school class, the responsibility largely fell on the students to be ready.

Arlt said a major factor for the Plainview seniors who scored the state-leading scores was the fact that nearly all of them live at home with biological parents, giving them a sturdy support network outside of school.

Novicki said preparation for college and tests like the ACT is a team effort, and that effort should begin as early as elementary school. She also said more students will be able to recognize that they can continue their education after high school.

“Maybe they won’t plan on a four-year school, but even if they go to a two-year school, they will be in a better position,” she said.

All of Nebraska’s juniors, including 17 from Plainview, will take the ACT this April. Arlt said he doesn’t anticipate a repeat of last year’s high mark.

“I don’t think we’re going to match (the 24.6 composite) score,” he said. “We’re hoping to stay above the state average. I’m to compare them to other students in the state. I’m going to compare them to their own personal potential.”

Arlt said the class that earned the highest scores in the state will be remembered for “establishing a legacy.”

“Parents and teachers were probably more excited about the scores than (the students) were,” Arlt said. “But it proved what they could accomplish.”

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