ASPEN - The Aspen School District once again outscored its state and national peers on a standardized test. But district administrators say the class of 2012's ACT scores - which included the school's highest composite score to date - carry far more weight than just a number.
"This test is truly valued because kids and parents know that this data actually comes into play as kids begin to look at college and at their future," said Aspen Superintendent John Maloy. "These numbers really mean something."
According to data released last week, Aspen had an average composite ACT score of 24.5. By comparison, the state average was 20.6, and the national average was 21.1. Aspen also scored above its peers in all four subjects tested - English, math, reading and science.
The ACT is a national college-admissions exam that is designed to measure the skills needed for success in first-year college course work; 141 Aspen High students took the test in 2012.
ASPEN - While Aspen's results from 2012 are impressive in their own right, Maloy said the more important news is that Aspen students continue to maintain - and improve - their performance.
The reason Maloy and others give such credence to ACT scores is simple: "The ACT does not just measure a student's performance. It tells us about the rigor of the course work, and that correlates to how well a student is prepared for college," he said.
In fact, ACT officials say that "it is the rigor of course work - rather than simply the number of core courses - that has the greatest impact on ACT performance and college readiness."
As such, ACT releases a college-readiness factor for test-takers in tandem with the raw scores. According to the data, 91 percent of Aspen students met the benchmark for college English composition, 74 percent met the benchmark for college algebra, 73 percent hit the mark for college social science, and 57 percent for college biology.
And unlike other standardized exams - like the annual state assessment tests given to kids in grades three through 10 (CSAPs and now TCAPs) - ACT scores can be compared on a national level.
"This does not just measure how our students perform; it compares them to students across the state and nation," Maloy said. "This really shows that our kids take this test seriously, with great preparation on the kids' part and the teachers' part."
Still, for a high-achieving school district such as Aspen, the devil often lies in the details of standardized tests like the ACT.
For example, the Aspen School District has focused much attention in recent years on improving its math program. The ACT scores show that it might be starting to pay off, with the class of 2012 scoring a percentage point above the prior year's class and 0.2 percentage point above the class of 2010, which was a particularly high-scoring class.
"When we look at math, 24 is a really great score," Maloy explained. "And ACT is predicting that 74 percent of our kids are ready for college-level algebra, which is good news.
"But what we're saying to ourselves is that we can still do better, so we will continue to improve not just our curriculum but our instruction and overall classroom practice. Our goal is always to prepare our kids for the future the best we can."