English Department seeks solution to decreased test scores

Students not meeting standard up 9% from 2019



Nearly 28% of New Trier students failed to meet 2022 English ACT/SAT average performance level, compared to 19% of students in 2019

Standardized testing organizations such as the ACT and SAT have reported record low scores for the class of 2022 and 2023, specifically in the English and Reading portions of the test. At New Trier, too, the class of 2023’s scores “marked a decline from the 2020-21 school year”. 

NPR noted that 42% of class of 2022 did not reach the benchmark for English. The decrease in test scores has been particularly alarming for schools across the country.

The class of 2023 did not have the opportunity to take the PSAT or prerequisite tests before the official test, so the unfamiliarity with the tests could have contributed to this decline

— English Dept. Chair Ed Zwirner

The online learning program, though strong and organized at New Trier, gave students the opportunity to pull back efforts in their practices and readings, overall decreasing their attention spans when they returned back to the school. 

For New Trier in specific, nearly 28% of students taking the 2022 English ACT/SAT failed to meet the average performance level. This significantly contrasts the 2019 statistics, where the students failing to meet the average performance level was 19%. 

In 2022, the average New Trier SAT ELA scores landed around 595, whereas in 2019 and years prior, the scores were almost never below 615 in the ELA section. Similarly, the decline in the scores was seen throughout many schools in the district. Lake Forest High School’s score, for example, fell from 605 (2019) to 571 (2022), a drop very similar to that of New Trier’s. 

Senior Kayla Ball, who was thrown into quarantine and online learning in the end of her freshman year noted “[my attention span] decreased and I learned less about grammar”, which she also correlated to the ACT and standardized testing in that it “slowed me down on the reading section and I got more confused.”

While New Trier’s staff is experienced and personable, the magnitude of students in the building ultimately changes the student to staff ratio, sometimes making it harder for students to fully connect and learn the skills needed for these certain tests. 

The exact cause of this decrease in reading scores remains unclear. Whether it be COVID and the effects of online learning, the teaching styles, or some outside cause, it is difficult to tell because it is different for each student. English Department Chair, Edward Zwirner pointed out that “the class of 2023 did not have the opportunity to take the PSAT or prerequisite tests before the official test, so the unfamiliarity with the tests could have contributed to this decline.” 

Additionally, the rather new test optional decisions high school seniors have when applying to colleges may have an impact on these scores as well, as many students put less effort into the test.

Zwirner notes that “The test is a less reliable piece of information. People stop trying on the test because it doesn’t matter as much.”

Though the entirety of the causes remain unclear, New Trier faculty and students aim for a stronger future. Among the New Trier population, many students who had the opportunity utilized tutoring services to enhance their test taking skills noticed a significant rise in their scores over time. Ball noted “My tutor gave me strategy on how to finish the sections and the different skills.” 

Sources from the Washington Post recognized the correlation between test scores and effective tutoring and suggested that “Schools should invest in high-end tutoring, aimed particularly at struggling students, as well as in after-school enrichment programs and expanded summer school.” Ball agrees with this and states that in future years, especially after the decrease in reading scores after COVID “tutoring should be included a little bit in schools to teach these strategies.” 

The New Trier English department is not aiming to entirely restructure the curriculum to match the requirements of the ACT and SAT, as they understand the decreasing value of the tests. 

Zwirner articulates that “test prep programs are useful to teach students how to take a test. But we approach it as to what is going to help the students in the long run, and if those two things align, great. But the test itself might not have a lot of value to a student in the future.”