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Students in many McHenry County schools aren’t ready for college, ACT data shows

A majority of students in numerous McHenry County school districts aren't ready to tackle college coursework – new state education data shows – even as schools devote more attention to prepare students for college and career upon graduation.

As part of an effort to better inform families about student achievement, the Illinois State Board of Education this school year released new measurements designed to give the public a more complete picture of school performance.

One of the state's new measurements redefines students' college readiness. The standard measures the percent of public high school graduates in 2014 who earned at least a 21 on the ACT, a combined score that mirrors the ACT national average.

By the state's definition, a majority of graduates in six of 10 area school districts aren't ready for college coursework. Officials from numerous local districts said they weren't satisfied with their figures and vowed improvement.

"Our goal for all students is to make them college- and career-ready," said Carl Vallianatos, director of curriculum and instruction for McHenry School District 156. "Until that number is 100 percent, we are not going to be satisfied."

Spanning two McHenry high schools, only 47 percent of District 156 graduates in 2014 were considered ready for college coursework, a data review on the new state standard shows.

A majority of graduates from districts in Algonquin, Harvard, Hebron, Johnsburg and Woodstock aren't considered college-ready by the state's ACT standard. Roughly 46 percent of 2014 graduates throughout all Illinois school districts were only considered ready for college coursework, according to state education officials

Nearly 50 percent of Johnsburg District 12 graduates, 49 percent of Algonquin District 300 graduates, and 46 percent of Woodstock District 200 graduates were considered ready for college coursework.

Graduates from Alden-Hebron District 19 and Harvard District 50 fared the worst in the area. Roughly 36 percent of District 19 graduates and 29 percent of District 50 graduates were considered college-ready.

District 50 spokesman Bill Clow said the Harvard school district emphasizes internal measurements that track individual student growth and provides administrators and teachers timely feedback on student needs.

"Our data shows District 50 students who do go to college are well prepared and perform well," he said. "Likewise, we work to provide those students who choose to go to trade school, the military or directly to work with the tools and skills they need to flourish in those environments."

Even with the state's newly released measurements, school officials from McHenry, Crystal Lake and Huntley said they internally have used the ACT national average as a benchmark to their students' college readiness for years.

Nearly 66.5 percent of Crystal Lake School District 155 graduates in 2014 were considered ready for college coursework – a districtwide percentage that ranks second in the area next to Huntley School District 158, according to the state.

Covering four high schools in the Crystal Lake area, District 155 also had graduates from two of its high schools rank the highest in the area. Roughly 74 percent of Cary-Grove High School graduates and 71 percent of Prairie Ridge High School graduates were considered ready for college coursework.

"We are happy to be a leader in the area, but I wouldn't say we are satisfied," said District 155 Superintendent Johnnie Thomas. "We realize 44 percent of our students aren't at that level, and we continue to look at ways to engage that population of learners."

The district continues to use its own measurements on areas like ACT scores, Advanced Placement courses and dropout rates to ensure all students grow and perform at higher levels, Thomas said.

Likewise, officials from Huntley District 158 have created rigorous internal achievement goals to better prepare students for college and career, said Chief Academic Officer Erika Schlichter.

One of the internal benchmarks focuses on ACT improvement and sets a lofty goal that the 2017 graduating class will average at least a 23.5 on the college readiness test, she said.

Covering one high school, District 158 led all area districts in the state's new standard. Nearly 69 percent of graduates from Huntley High School were considered ready for college coursework.

"We are happy with the progress, but we always are looking toward the next step to improve," Schlichter said.

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