Valley ACT scores are in

San Luis Valley educators weigh in on the region's painful test scores. From the Alamosa Valley Courier.

The San Luis Valley's ACT scores are in.

Eight of the 10 districts in the Valley that reported ACT data this year were below state average.

The Colorado Department of Education released the 2015 cumulative average scores on the ACT, a test taken by high school juniors to measure educational development and college readiness.

Four districts - Creede, Sierra Grande, Centennial, and Mountain Valley - had so few students take the test that the state does not release their cumulative score to prevent individual students' scores from being recognized in demographic data.

Of the Valley's 10 districts that do report ACT data, three saw their average scores increase this year, while six saw a decrease. Moffat School District reported their scores for the first time this year.

The highest possible score on the ACT is 36. The national average score is 20.3. Colorado's statewide average is 20.14, a decrease of 0.17 points from 2014. The average ACT score of an Adams State student is 20.8; for a Harvard student it's 32-35.

Of the reporting districts, the scores were as follows: Alamosa: 19.13, up 0.37 points from last year. South Conejos: 16.15, down 1.01 points from last year. North Conejos: 18.37, down 0.94 points from last year. Sangre de Cristo: 19.82, down 0.54 points from last year. Moffat: 19.4, first year district has reported data. Del Norte: 20.6, up 1.41 points from last year and above state average. Center: 16.1, down 0.23 points from last year and lowest of the reporting districts in the Valley. Sargent: 22.9, up 1.69 from last year, the highest of reporting districts in the Valley and above state average. Sanford: 19.59, down 0.37 points from last year. Monte Vista: 17.55, down 0.15 points from last year.

Colorado is one of 17 states to give the test to all 11th grade students at state expense. The program gives all students the opportunity to have a reportable score that can be used to apply for colleges and universities.

The ACT is one of many metrics communities can use to gauge school success, said Will Morton, director of assessment administration for the Colorado Department of Education.

"It can be a useful measure for schools to determine the strength of their instructional program and their ability to prepare students for post-secondary readiness," Morton said. "One of the things you see with ACT scores is the same gaps as with other tests. Poverty matters. There are schools that are high poverty and high achieving, but they're the exception rather than the rule."

Poverty can indeed be a hindrance, said Sierra Grande School District Superintendent Darren Edgar. Though his district is not reporting this year, Sierra Grande's scores have been several points below state average in recent years.

"We reside in one of the poorest counties in the state," Edgar said. "Our kids are being compared against schools like Cherry Creek, where the students all have iPads and new textbooks. Our kids are using textbooks that are 20 years old."

Edgar said his staff continues to strive to raise test scores regardless.

"A couple things have to happen," said Edgar. "First, we have to be able to retain qualified teachers. There's not a huge group of teachers to choose from. We're displaced from the Front Range, and our ability to find a teacher who has a master's degree and is willing to relocate here is diminished. Second, we've got to have funding that will assist us in creating better educational opportunities."

Raising low scores can be difficult.

"If there were a silver bullet, everybody would use it," said Morton. "It's a matter of knowing your district, your community, your parents, and your kids, and working hard to develop programs that meet the needs of everyone involved."

It takes a village to improve scores, said Edgar.

"We recognize that we don't have as many arrows in our quiver as some places," said Edgar. "But we have a very supportive community. It takes everyone to improve these scores. It starts from ground zero."

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