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THEIR OPINION: N.D. schools must stay above average

BISMARCK -- North Dakota has great schools, it's agreed. We're proud of it. And we should be. But North Dakotans need to be frank, at least with themselves, about how good their state's elementary and high schools really are. The 2009 ACT test re...

BISMARCK -- North Dakota has great schools, it's agreed. We're proud of it. And we should be.

But North Dakotans need to be frank, at least with themselves, about how good their state's elementary and high schools really are.

The 2009 ACT test results are in. Nearly 6,000 North Dakota high school students took the tests. And, as expected, North Dakota students did better than the national average. The day the grades are handed out and the state's test results do not beat the national average will be a dark, dark day on the prairie. Beating the national average is good, but it's also expected.

Unfortunately, North Dakota students did not do as well as students from South Dakota, Montana and Minnesota. Whoa.

The numerical differences are small: Composite national average, 21.1. Minnesota, 22.7. Montana and South Dakota, 22. North Dakota, 21.5.

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There are a wide number of variables at work here and, with the small differences in numbers, it probably doesn't mean much that North Dakota didn't score as well as her sister prairie states. Further, changing the numbers on how students do on tests such as the ACT requires preparation that reaches back into their elementary classrooms. But the numbers are what they are.

In North Dakota, when it comes to elementary and high school education, the state cannot stand pat. The Legislature did its part this past session, strategically placing money in school district coffers to bolster student performance. The job now is up to the schools, and the parents, to make it work.

The ACT people have set standards in four areas, all indicators of success in college. North Dakota students reached that benchmark in English and reading; they did not in math and science. The English benchmark is 18, North Dakota students tested at 20.7, and the national average is 20.6. The reading benchmark is 21, North Dakota students tested at 21.8, and the national average is 21.4.

All students hit a rough patch in math and science. The math benchmark is 22, North Dakota students tested at 21.5 and the national average is 21. The science benchmark is 24, North Dakota students tested at 21.6 and the national average is 20.9. The roughest patch was science, which North Dakota added to its assessment relatively recently.

There was an optional essay section on the test, measuring English and writing skills, taken by nearly 2,000 North Dakota students. The average score of the state's students taking the test was 21.2 and the national average was 20.8. Not bad.

The numbers are tight, and every state feels the pressure to improve. In truth, it's not a competition, but better educated students will have more options for careers of their choice and livelihoods that support their hopes and dreams.

A well-educated work force also gives the state one more tool in diversifying and improving the state's economy.

Related Topics: EDUCATION
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