Grand Forks' 2021-22 ACT average highest among North Dakota’s largest school districts

The increase in average composite score – from 19.61 to 20.33 – is attributed to the transition back to in-person instruction, according to Amy Bartsch, chief academic officer for Grand Forks Public Schools.

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GRAND FORKS – Grand Forks Public Schools had the highest average composite ACT scores among North Dakota’s largest school districts in 2021-22, according to a report released by Insights of North Dakota, the state’s official data source for public education.

The ACT is typically written by high school juniors, and comprises four subjects – English, science, mathematics and reading. Each subject is scored on a scale of 1 to 36, with the composite score representing a student’s average score across the four subjects.

The increase in average composite score – from 19.61 to 20.33 – is attributed to the transition back to in-person instruction, according to Amy Bartsch, chief academic officer for Grand Forks Public Schools.

“I believe the increase has to do with a more typical school year experienced by our students,” said Bartsch. “From mid-March through May 2020, we had 2.5 months of completely virtual instruction. The following school year, high school students had an A/B schedule, where classes met face-to-face every other day. While necessary, these changes were impactful on student achievement.”

Insights’ report provides comprehensive data about key educational metrics, including ACT scores, graduation rates and reading and math proficiency measured by the NAEP assessment.


The data goes back to the 2019-20 school year, when the majority of 11th-grade students began taking the ACT as a benchmark assessment. Prior to the 2019-20 school year, these students were given the North Dakota State Assessment, so not all students opted to take the ACT, according to Bartsch.

Grand Forks students averaged a 20.33 on the exam in 2019-20. This figure dropped to 19.61 the following school year, before rebounding to its pre-pandemic level in 2021-22.

Although pleased with relatively high ACT scores, district officials concede there is room for improvement in other key metrics.

According to Insights’ report, the combined four year graduation rate at Grand Forks’ two high schools – Central and Red River – is 83%, down 4% from 2020-21. Despite the decline, Bartsch says the district has resources to help struggling students get back on track.

“There is a direct correlation between online learning necessitated by the pandemic, and the dip in traditional graduation rates,” said Bartsch. “However, we are fortunate to have a robust alternative high school where we can address these students’ needs.”

Bartsch referenced several programs that the district has utilized to assist its students in recovering from stalled progress during the pandemic. One such program is the credit recovery option, which employs a less punitive approach toward failing grades.

“With the credit recovery option, if a student fails a class they can resume at the module where they left off, provided they have demonstrated effort toward learning the previously assigned material,” said Bartsch. “We’ve found this to be a very effective approach, as opposed to making students repeat the entire course.”

Another area of concern in the Insights report is a rise in chronic absenteeism. According to the report, chronic absenteeism denotes a full-time student who misses more than 10% of their scheduled instructional days. Both the state and Grand Forks School District’s percentage of chronically absent students rose by 7%, to 22% and 24%, respectively.


Brenda Lewis, assistant superintendent for elementary education, outlined the district’s efforts to reduce its number of chronically absent students.

“Our district employs family and student liaisons, who work together to identify and reduce barriers to school attendance,” said Lewis. “These services include mental health support for students and their families, as well as transportation assistance such as alternative pick-up times.”

Additionally, Superintendent Terry Brenner said the district has waived transportation fees to and from its mentor center. The mentor center provides middle and high school students with academic and mental health counseling. Bus service will operate between 1 and 7 p.m.

Terry Brenner. Herald file photo
Terry Brenner. Herald file photo

The district also collaborates with the U.S. Air Force to assess performance of students with family members stationed at Grand Forks Air Force Base. The Air Force’s report titled “Support of Military Families,” examines metrics including graduation rate, student to mental health support staff ratio and pre-k availability.

While Grand Forks’ graduation rate and student to mental health support staff ratio improved from the publication’s previous report in 2019, the 2021 student learning rate regressed to the 33rd percentile of 157 Air Force installations surveyed. Additionally, pre-kindergarten availability remained unchanged from 2019, also ranking in the bottom 33%.

Brenner said the district is consulting with Air Force leaders to devise solutions for the declining metrics. He also explained one reason why pre-kindergarten access remains low.

“We have met with the base’s wing commander as well as with colonels, to address the gaps present,” said Brenner. “With regard to pre-kindergarten availability, funding for that is outside of the district’s hands.”

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