Test scores and graduation rates are of utmost importance to schools, including Junction City High School.
JCHS Principal Melissa Sharp spoke about these two issues during a Monday night meeting of the Unified School District 475 Board of Education.
JCHS has a graduation rate of about 87.8 percent over the last two years.
“We have a district goal to have a 90 percent graduation rate by 2025,” Sharp said.
Based on its current graduation rates, she said she and her staff believe this is attainable.
The class of 2019 dropped from 357 to 309 over four years, Sharp said, for a variety of reasons. Junction City’s high transient population contributes to this.
“A very smart school leader once told me, ‘if you work at Junction City, you don’t educate to a confined audience, you educate the parade,’” she said. “I think it’s really important for our community and this board to understand how many new students we get that walk in our door annually from all over the world and how many students leave our doors after getting the education we provide.”
JCHS can see a turnover of roughly half its student population in a single year due to the military.
In addition to the military, JCHS students also contend with other issues in their day to day lives such as homelessness, poverty, and foster care.
Sharp offered an example of a senior girl who needs 15 credit hours to graduate and who she said has been bounced around in foster care, spending each night in a different place. The unnamed student’s situation is unstable as are the situations of many similar to her, though Sharp said she is hopeful for the student’s graduation prospects.
Not all students who struggle with such challenges will make it to graduation day.
Roughly 10 percent of the JCHS student population — 36 students — is homeless. This is not uncommon. The district has a program in place to help such students meet their daily needs, but such challenges can still prevent students from excelling.
“That’s a reality here,” Sharp said. “It’s not an excuse. It’s a reality. So when they come into Junction City High School, our goal is (to determine) ‘where are you at and where can we take you?’"
Any student who drops out, including those who later go on to attain their GED, will count against JCHS’s overall graduation rate.
Sharp went over JCHS’s average test scores on the ACT in recent years.
“Our numbers are lingering around 19.24 in English,” she said. "They dropped in math last year from 19.2 to to 18.5. You can see in reading, 21.5 to 21.1 and science 21.0 to 20.3."
According to Sharp, dropping test scores have been a trend around the state since last year.
“We can expect, as more students take the test, that scores will go down,” BOE member Tom Brungardt said. “And that’s going to happen statewide, so we’ll all be in the same boat.”
It is not known at this time what scores could drop to in coming years across the state.
The drop, she said, may be partly owing to the test being offered for free by the state to students who hadn’t taken the exam, meaning more students took the test.
She said all students in the state of Kansas are scheduled to take the ACT this year, except for those who choose to opt out. This is a change over previous years, when students had to elect to take the test.
“The desire, from the state of Kansas, is that more students have access to take the exam,” Sharp said.
The ACT is not required for some post-secondary options, including the military, technical schools, and junior colleges, she said.
Test scores, Sharp said, could continue to decline if every student — including those who don’t intend to go to college — takes the ACT. Last year, there was an 8 percent increase in the number of students taking the exam.
Sharp said she expected about 300 juniors to take the ACT this year.
She spoke of how test scores might be improved, saying she felt it was important for college-bound students to take four years of math. Currently, JCHS only requires three years of math courses.
At this time, according to Sharp, JCHS’s course catalog is being filled with courses that could help boost ACT scores, including an ACT preparation class and a summer "ACT boot camp" course. This year, JCHS also started administering the pre-ACT exam for freshmen.
Sharp said students who take more advanced science courses such as physics tended to do better on the ACT than those who did not take such courses. Even some four year universities, she said, may eschew ACT scores for cumulative GPAs and "rigorous courses" on students’ transcripts.
“We’re going to encourage grade point averages, we’re going to encourage rigorous coursework and we’ll be giving the ACT onsite,” Sharp said.