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District 196 students prepare for ACT testing in April

Correction: This story originally stated that the ACT is a required tests for Minnesota students to take for graduation. This was incorrect. The ACT is optional for students, but schools are required to offer it each year. The story has been changed to reflect this information. We apologize for the error. 

On Wednesday, April 19, high school juniors across the state of Minnesota will have the opportunity to take the ACT, the third year the test is being offered in schools for all students.

On Monday, March 20, Rosemount High School Principal John Wollersheim and Eagan High School Assistant Principal Steve Thompson gave an overview of the district’s preparations for the ACT to the District 196 School Board.

Minnesota is one of 18 states that offers the ACT to all high school students. In 2016, around 64,000 students — nearly every junior in the state — completed the exam. The ACT is required for admission to most colleges and universities.

“We want to get every student possible to take the ACT,” Superintendent Jane Berenz said. “Some kids may not want to or not understand the importance, so anything we can do to take away those barriers for students attending college.”

In 2016, the national average on the ACT was 20.8 out of a possible 36 points. The state average was 21.1, while the District 196 average was 23.0.

“District 196 is now and has in the past been pulling up the state average,” Wollersheim said.

The ACT is designed to measure general education development in high school, and assess how likely students are to succeed in college. It has become a popular college entrance requirement because it’s a more consistent way to compare students than GPA or class rank, Thompson said.

The ACT includes four sections — English, math, reading and science — and is scored out of a total of 36 possible points. There is also an optional writing section where students are scored on an essay.

Students can also use their ACT scores in scholarship applications, college course placements, and evaluating possible career pathways, Thompson said.

District teachers and administrators also use data from the ACT to improve student learning. Teachers have been making an effort to be sure curriculum and standards are in place to help students succeed, and have been offering additional prep courses during school hours, Wollersheim said.

Going forward, the district is considering whether to offer a school-wide ACT practice tests for 10th-graders, and whether to add even more ACT prep classes into the high school curriculum, Wollersheim said.

“I think we’re teaching to help students perform as well as possible on the ACT and other state exams,” said Wollersheim.

Offering an ACT practice test to all sophomores on the same day juniors take the ACT would create some challenges, but is also under consideration, Berenz said.

“We’ll figure it out … but it’s a logistical as well as cost issue,” said Berenz.

District purchases land for transportation hub

The District 196 School Board approved an agreement to purchase approximately 12 acres of land near the intersection of County Road 42 and Johnny Cake Ridge Road in Apple Valley from Scannell Properties for $3.1 million.

The land will be used to build a second transportation hub, which district officials believe would save approximately $500,000 annually in transportation costs.

Jeff Solomon, director of finance and operations, told the board that plans for the transportation hub have been in the works since 2013. In 2014, the district received special legislative authority to use levy funding for land purchase and construction for the transportation hub.

In August 2014, the district identified a piece of land in Apple Valley that would be a good fit and negotiated a purchase agreement with the landowner. But in 2015, the city of Apple Valley denied the district's application for development on the parcel.

The new site, referred to as the Menards/Hansen site, is still within the area the district identified for the transportation hub, and the city of Apple Valley has indicated they support development on the site, Solomon said.

Capital purchases approved

On Monday, the school board approved two significant capital purchases that are being funded as part of the district's 2015 bond referendum.

The board approved approximately $791,000 for furniture at East Lake Elementary School, scheduled to open in the fall of 2017. The total includes furniture for all classrooms, special learning areas, computer labs, conference rooms, the cafeteria, the front office and the staff break room.

The district will purchase furniture from Central Minnesota Educational Research and Development Council and Northeast Metro 916 joint purchasing agreements through Innovative Office Solutions and Intereum.

The board also accepted a bid of $1.16 million from Matrix Communications to replace the district's telephone system. The current system was last updated in 2005, and is no longer supported by the manufacturer. The district received seven bids from qualified vendors that were reviewed in February.