If the ACT college entrance exam is a gauge of college preparedness, Decorah students are ready to go.
According to ACT results in 2013, Decorah students are performing well above the state and national average with regard to college readiness.
"Students are being given the tools to complete challenging work and at the same time teachers are challenging them and students are rising to that challenge," said Decorah High School (DHS) Principal Kim Sheppard.
This year, 108 DHS students to took the ACT exam, a curriculum-based measure of college readiness. ACT components include tests of academic achievement in English, math, reading, science and writing. Students also complete high-school grade and course information, a student-profile section and a career-interest inventory.
This year, 90 percent of Decorah students tested at a level which indicated they are ready for college, compared with 70 percent in Iowa and 57 percent in the nation.
"Over the years there have been some ups and downs, but overall, we've seen a consistent increase," said Sheppard.
Sheppard discussed the Decorah trends compared to the state average over the past five years.
The gap has slowly widened between Decorah students taking the test and other students in Iowa.
Although statewide English scores have fallen .10 of a point each year of the past five, Decorah continues to climb.
In 2009, Decorah students averaged 23.5 points in English, while the statewide average was 21.9; in 2010, DHS students went up .2 to 23.7 while the state dropped to 21.8; in 2011, Decorah climbed another .2 and the state fell to 21.7; 2012 saw a Decorah score of 24 compared to the state's 21.6; and this year's score of 24.9 was a full 3.4 points above the state's 21.5.
In mathematics, the trend has been the same, with the exception of some small dips.
In 2009, Decorah's math score was at 23.1 to the state's 21.9; 2010 saw 23.5 in Decorah with a 21.8 statewide: in 2011, Decorah stayed the same at 23.5 while the state went up .10 to 21.9: in 2012, Decorah fell .20 along with the state, taking scores to 23.3 and 21.7, respectively; and in 2013, Decorah increased another .3 to 23.6, while the state again fell .10 to 21.6.
Sheppard highlighted reading as one of the areas where Decorah has made marked improvement.
"I am really pleased the reading piece went up 1.1 points while the state score remained the same," said Sheppard.
Sheppard was referring to Decorah's 2013 reading score of 25.6, a full 3.1 points above the 2013 state average of 22.5. That score was 1.1 points above Decorah's 2012 score of 24.5 and the state's unchanged 22.5. Previously, Decorah had experienced some ups and downs in its reading scores, from 24.7 in 2009 to 23.8 in 2010 and back up to 24.1 in 2011. Over that time, the statewide average went from 22.9 in 2009 and dipped to 22.6 in both 2010 and 2011.
With regard to science, Sheppard said it is one of the areas the school is "really starting to look at."
She said science scores went down .10 this year from last year. She said one of the determining factors in how well the students do in science depends upon when they complete their third year of required science.
"If a student is not enrolled in a yearlong science class, we see a little dip," she said.
Science scores over the past five years have gone from 23.5 in 2009 to 23.9 in 2013, while the state's average has slowly decreased from 22.4 to 22.2.
Overall, Decorah's composite score remains strong at 24.6 in 2013, compared with the state's 22.1. Over five years, the District's score has slowly inched up from 23.8 to 24.6, while the state's average has dropped from 22.4 to 22.1.
The previous five years saw Decorah's composite score fluctuate, but it always stayed above the statewide average. Decorah's scores were 23.1, 2004: 23.5, 2005: 22.5, 2006; 22.8, 2007: and 23.5, 2008. In that same time, the state saw scores of 22, 22, 22.1, 22.3 and 22.4, respectively.
Sheppard said she is thrilled with this year's results.
"Our increase in the composite score and our increase in reading is impressive. I am just really proud of the kids' achievement and of the teachers' ability to challenge them and help them achieve their goals," she said.