How Elmwood High School Achieved Record ACT Scores with Horizon Education

How did Elmwood High School implement Horizon Education to increase their ACT score and get their students college and career ready?

Thomas Sauve, the middle and high school principal of Elmwood School District in Wisconsin, first heard about Horizon Education in an unexpected way: on the way to a bar after a state principal’s convention in Green Bay. 

He was talking about how he wanted to improve his school’s ACT scores, when Tim, the principal at Two Rivers High School, spun around and said, “I’ve got something for you!” The two started talking and Mr. Sauve learned about Horizon Education. He scheduled a meeting with us, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Let’s explore how Elmwood High School implements Horizon Education for ACT readiness and what the results have been.

Assessment and Curriculum Implementation

This is Elmwood High School’s second year using Horizon Education. In their first year, they only used Horizon's benchmark assessments. This year, they've expanded to include both Horizon’s benchmark assessments and curriculum for the ACT. Freshman and sophomore students take the benchmark assessments twice a year. Juniors take them three times a year, plus the actual ACT in spring.

The school uses the immediate data from these assessments for dedicated intervention time. Thomas notes that in their middle school, they offer a universal intervention period every single day. But in their high school, they didn’t have anything in place before Horizon. “The kids, in a sense, were asking for this help. So what we did was we took the Horizon data as a universal screener. If kids scored low in a particular area — math, science, whatever it might be — we’ll prescribe a skills intervention.”

Teachers also use the data to inform their classroom instruction. “Our teachers will take all the data after every test in our PLCs. We’ll go over that and they look at, ‘Oh man, statistics and probability, that’s a low spot for us.’ Then, they will take some of the questions from Horizon and put them on a daily basis into their bell ringers.” For those who are really struggling in specific subjects, like science for example, they set aside time for one-on-one instruction. “We have a science teacher, she’s just wildly intelligent, and she will take kids during the school day. We’ll do some pullouts for 20-30 minutes a couple times a week and they will work on the specific areas that they did not score well on the Horizon test.”

According to Thomas, adding Horizon’s curriculum in 2024 was a “game-changer for us and we’re going to continue to use it.” He adds, “It is so easy the way things are set up in Horizon because if a kid scores low in X, Y, or Z, you can just click X, Y, or Z and give them what they need.”

Student Feedback

The students’ feedback about Horizon has been overwhelmingly positive. Thomas says that Elmwood's current seniors, who were the first class to use Horizon, are helping create buy-in among the lower grades. “They were the ones that said, ‘This really helps, you need to pay attention, you need to work at this, this will help you.’” 

In terms of the specific assessments, the seniors thought that Horizon was very accurate at preparing them for the actual ACT. “They thought the questions were pretty spot on between the Horizon testing and the ACT test. They didn’t feel like there was much of a difference in the types of questions or the rigor of the questions.”

In just two years of implementation, the students at Elmwood have become invested in their own growth. “Whenever our kids take the test, they go to their score reports almost immediately. Our students really like the reports, they like to know the national percentile rank… their growth areas, their strength areas.” Thomas recalls how this year’s juniors took the test and immediately afterwards, met up in a communal area to talk about what they did well and which questions confused them. “They were actually collaborating and working, and I thought, ‘Okay, we might be onto something here.’” 

Thomas says that Horizon has become an essential part of instruction at Elmwood. “We’ve really been able to make Horizon part of our culture.”

Flexible Administration

One of the highlights of Horizon is our flexible administration. Educators and administrators can give the benchmark exams whenever they like, however they like. This has been a huge help for Elmwood. 

Thomas explains that this year’s freshman class scored unexpectedly low, despite doing well on the Wisconsin Forward Exam, their state assessment. He asked the students for feedback about the Horizon benchmark assessment and the students said that they simply didn’t have enough time to finish the test and pace themselves. It wasn’t a lack of skills, Thomas discovered, it was a lack of understanding of how the test worked.

So Thomas decided to try something different. “We knew we didn’t have an accurate representation of what our kids knew, so we said, ‘Hey, we’re thinking about giving them the option to be timed or untimed.’” Our team at Horizon thought this was a great idea, so that’s what Elmwood did. Half of the students chose a timed test, and half chose the untimed test. The result was “more accurate data for our students,” says Thomas. This practice is something they will continue doing for the freshman class’s first benchmark test so that they can “get a solid, accurate base.”

The Results

Elmwood High School's results have been very impressive. Thomas reviewed test data with us and he highlighted all the scores that were above 21 in green, which indicated that the student hit the career- and college-readiness mark. It was most of the report.

In 2022, before Elmwood partnered with Horizon, the same report had a few smatterings of green. However, the “scores in general were not where we wanted them.” For 2023, the first year Elmwood used Horizon, there was much more green. “I was getting emails and text messages, and students were like, ‘I can’t believe what I got on my ACT!’ It was awesome. We really knew we were on to something,” says Thomas. 

For 2024, the results only got better. Nearly the entire chart was green. “It’s turning into a green wall,” says Thomas. The average composite ACT score was 22.8. “That is a district record by far.” Although Wisconsin won’t release the ACT scores until late September/early October, Thomas believes that “that’s going to put us in the upper echelons of all schools in the state of Wisconsin. That’s really, really high. They exceeded our expectations.” 

He says that they’ve never had so many mid to high twenties. They even had some students scoring 31s, 32s, 33s, and 34s. “This would not have happened had we not partnered with Horizon. It just would not have.” 

We asked Thomas if he had any advice for schools considering Horizon. “Our results speak for themselves. I really believe in this product. It’s been good for us, it’s been good for our kids. It’s helped our staff hone in on areas where we can improve and also highlight the areas where we’re doing very well. Just having another set of data to inform our instruction has been really important and has been really good for us.”

Thomas wants even more schools to know about Horizon. “I’ve talked to a lot of schools in our state and even out of state now. I really believe in this product, I really do. I think what you are doing is really helpful to schools and anybody who jumps on board and partners is going to be better off for it.” 

Thank you, Thomas and the entire Elmwood School District, for trusting us in your high school! We are so glad to hear how Horizon has become part of your culture in just the last two years. We look forward to many more years of partnerships and stellar ACT scores.

Interested in learning how we can help your district prepare for the ACT? Request a demo here.

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