Students from Elkhorn South High School in Omaha, NE had the highest average composite ACT score in Utah’s Class of 2022, a 24.03 that secures their school’s spot in the nation’s 78th percentile rank and at the top of this list of the best Nebraska high schools by ACT score. Not far behind Elkhorn South’s top average score are its sister school, Elkhorn North High School (with a 22.76), Eustis-Farnam High School (22.40), and High School at Johnson (22.28).
(Top image caption: Elkhorn South High School in Omaha has Nebraska’s highest average ACT scores.)
In 2017, the ACT became compulsoryand free for all Nebraska high school juniors, so the state boasted a 100% test rate until the class of 2021’s turn, when the pandemic led to fewer students taking the exam. A high percentage of Nevada juniors still take the exam, though—8 states tested between 90-99% of their class of 2022 students. Among these, only Utah (which tested 91% of students) surpassed Nebraska’s 19.4 score with a 19.9, and Wisconsin (which tested 93% of students) tied with the Cornhusker State. Right behind them are Montana and North Dakota, with scores of 19.3 and 19.2, respectively.
States with higher testing levels tend to have lower average scores, since they include results from students whose future plans may not include college-level coursework. In states where standardized testing like the ACT is optional, most of the test-takers are a self-selecting, academically advanced group of students. For example, consider Washington D.C. and Massachusetts, which had the highest average ACT scores in the nation (26.9, 26.5), but only tested 18% and 9% of graduates, respectively.
ACT Benchmark Scores Measure College Readiness
The ACT’s “College Readiness Benchmarks” are the scores (out of 36) on the subject area tests that indicate a student’s chances of college success. The ACT believes that meeting the benchmarks for English, Reading, Mathematics, and Science gives a student a 50% chance of earning a B or higher or a 75% chance of getting a C or higher in a corresponding freshman-level college course. Unchanged since 2013, these benchmark scores and their college course equivalents are:
English (English Composition) – 18
Reading (Social Sciences) – 22
Math (College Algebra) – 22
Science (Biology) – 23
Since 2015, the ACT has also offered a College Readiness Benchmark for coursework in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math), based on scores on the Math & Science subject area tests. Because college-level STEM coursework tends to be more academically challenging (for instance, many STEM freshmen begin with Calculus instead of Algebra), ACT has determined that the benchmark ACT score is significantly higher for STEM than in other subject areas. Meeting the STEM benchmark indicates a 50% chance of earning a B or higher in identified college-level STEM courses. The benchmark score is: Math & Science (STEM) – 26
Many Nebraska Juniors are Not Prepared for College
Percent of Nebraska Students (dark blue) Compared to the Nation (light blue) Meeting College Benchmarks (ACT Inc.)
A slim majority of Nebraska’s graduates (51%) are prepared for college English, the only subject area in which more than half of test-takers surpassed the benchmark score. 37% of students met the Reading benchmark, and just under one-third of graduates are college-ready in Math and Science. 20% of students met all four benchmarks, and In all subject areas, Nebraskans’ scores trail the national average, but by no more than 5%.
Compared to the class of 2019, this set of graduates showed about the same level of college preparedness across the board. The average scores of the class of 2022 have declined 4% in English, 4% in Math, 3% in Reading, and 2% in Science—the average scores of 2022 students across the entire nation have declined, so this isn’t an issue specific to Nebraskans.
Racial Disparities are Evident in Nebraska’s ACT Scores
Sadly, one of the biggest indicators of ACT success is one over which students have no control: their racial background. Nationally, Asian Americans have the highest rates of success, followed by white students. Students who identify as Black or African American typically score the lowest, just behind students with American Indian heritage. (Students who identify as either Hispanic or Pacific Islander score somewhere in the middle.)
These nationwide trends are mirrored in Nebraska’s 2022 results. 38% of white students and 37% of Asian students met three or more College Readiness Benchmarks, but only 8% of Black students and 12% of Latino graduates did so. The significance of these results is skewed somewhat by the racial makeup of the graduating class:
White – 64%
Hispanic/Latino – 17%
Black/African American – 5%
Asian – 3%
In other words, Nebraska could close the achievement gap by raising the scores of less than 500 Black students and just over 1,000 Hispanic students.
Poverty Levels Directly Affect ACT Scores
Average ACT Composite Score vs. Poverty Rate of 31 Nebraska High Schools (Omaha World-Herald. 2019)
Along with race, one of the biggest predictors of ACT success is socio-economic status. In a 2019 survey of ACT results from 31 Nebraska high schools, there was a direct correlation between a school’s average composite score and its poverty rate, as determined by the percentage of its students who were eligible for free or reduced-price school lunches.
In all five schools, fewer than 20% of students were eligible for free or reduced-price school lunches.
Students Can Improve Their ACT Scores
Luckily for students looking to increase their chances of ACT success, there are several actions they can take which are statistically likely to improve their scores.
Focus on schoolwork and take academically challenging classes. Students who do better in school nearly always do better overall on standardized tests like the ACT. For example, in 2022, Nebraska students who had taken three or more years of high school math scored an average of more than 5 points higher (20.8) on the ACT Math test than those who had not (15.2).
Take the ACT more than once. There is a clear statistical advantage to retesting, even according to the ACT; in 2022, the average composite score of Nebraska graduates who took the ACT two or more times was 23.2, nearly 6 points higher than the average composite score (17.3) of students who took the test only once. Students worried about the cost of retesting should consider ACT’s fee waiver program, which allows eligible students to test for free.
Spend time studying and preparing specifically for the ACT. Taking practice tests helps students familiarize themselves with the content and the format of the test and gives them specific feedback. In addition, working with a tutor can be an effective way of improving a student’s weakest areas and developing test-taking strategies. Piqosity offers a full suite of free ACT Practice materials, perfect for students looking to increase their chances of ACT success.
Nebraska’s Colleges are Accessible and Affordable
32% of Nebraska’s 2022 graduates aspire to postsecondary education (an understandably steep drop from pre-pandemic student plans), with the majority aiming for a four-year bachelor’s degree. There’s good news for parents of aspirational students worried about becoming empty-nesters, though: Nebraskan students send the vast majority of their ACT score reports to public in-state colleges.
Nebraska high school students are tested, typically during their junior year, using the Nebraska Student-Centered Assessment System (NSCAS ACT). They are graded along three metrics: English Language Arts (ELA), the average of the English, Reading, and Writing tests; Mathematics; and Science. Of the nearly 240 public high schools for which data was available, 55 had a composite score of 20.0 or over.
Top 10 Nebraska Public High Schools by 2022 Average ACT Scores (composite)
The default sort is by composite score from highest to lowest; to change the sorting order, click on the header by which you want to sort
“Avg. Composite” is the composite ACT score from 0 to 36
“Avg. ELA, Math, Science” refers to the school’s average scores in each subject area from 0 to 36
“# Tested” is the number of students who sat for the exam at each school
Nebraska High Schools by ACT Scores 2023
KENESAW PUBLIC SCHOOLS
KENESAW SECONDARY SCHOOL
HASTINGS PUBLIC SCHOOLS
HASTINGS SENIOR HIGH SCHOOL
ADAMS CENTRAL PUBLIC SCHOOLS
ADAMS CENTRAL JR-SR HIGH SCH
SILVER LAKE PUBLIC SCHOOLS
SILVER LAKE HIGH SCHOOL
NELIGH-OAKDALE HIGH SCHOOL
ELGIN PUBLIC SCHOOLS
ELGIN HIGH SCHOOL
SUMMERLAND PUBLIC SCHOOLS
SUMMERLAND HIGH SCHOOL
BANNER COUNTY PUBLIC SCHOOLS
BANNER COUNTY HIGH SCHOOL
BOONE CENTRAL SCHOOLS
BOONE CENTRAL HIGH SCHOOL
ST EDWARD PUBLIC SCHOOLS
ST EDWARD HIGH SCHOOL
RIVERSIDE PUBLIC SCHOOLS
RIVERSIDE HIGH SCHOOL
ALLIANCE PUBLIC SCHOOLS
ALLIANCE HIGH SCHOOL
HEMINGFORD PUBLIC SCHOOLS
HEMINGFORD HIGH SCHOOL
BOYD COUNTY SCHOOLS
BOYD COUNTY HIGH SCHOOL (SPENCER)
AINSWORTH COMMUNITY SCHOOLS
AINSWORTH HIGH SCHOOL
GIBBON PUBLIC SCHOOLS
GIBBON HIGH SCHOOL
KEARNEY PUBLIC SCHOOLS
KEARNEY HIGH SCHOOL
ELM CREEK PUBLIC SCHOOLS
ELM CREEK HIGH SCHOOL
SHELTON PUBLIC SCHOOLS
SHELTON HIGH SCHOOL
RAVENNA PUBLIC SCHOOLS
RAVENNA SENIOR HIGH
PLEASANTON PUBLIC SCHOOLS
PLEASANTON HIGH SCHOOL
AMHERST PUBLIC SCHOOLS
AMHERST HIGH SCHOOL
TEKAMAH-HERMAN COMMUNITY SCHS
HIGH SCHOOL AT TEKAMAH
OAKLAND CRAIG PUBLIC SCHOOLS
OAKLAND CRAIG JUNIOR-SENIOR HIGH
LYONS-DECATUR NORTHEAST SCHS
NORTHEAST SECONDARY SCHOOL
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