SHERIDAN — Sheridan High School students recorded some of their best scores ever this year in two notable testing areas.

Students scored an average of 22.1 on the ACT, the second-best mark in school history.

On Advanced Placement tests, 112 of 154 students (72.7 percent) scored 3 or better on an AP exam — which has a scale of 1 to 5 — the highest percentage in school history. The state ACT average was 19.5. Out of 216 SHS juniors who took the ACT in April, 69 of them — about 32 percent — scored 25 or higher, the most in school history.

To prepare for testing in April, all SHS juniors take online ACT sample tests in September or October.

The tests provide immediate feedback, so teachers can look at subjects where students struggled the most and incorporate some of those lessons into their daily plans.

The ACT entails, English, math, reading and science. For teachers in other subjects  like health and physical education, they write their tests similar to the reading and writing portions of the ACT because the test questions are written in a fairly unique style.

“I truly believe that in order for something like this to work, it has to be embedded in the classroom,” SHS principal Brent Leibach said. “That’s really been our focus.”

SHS students averaged 21.5 on the English portion and the state average was 18.4, the lowest section for both.

“That’s one of the things that we absolutely have to go back and take a look at and see how we can improve,” Leibach said. “It’s out there for everybody. It’s not one of those things that is just isolated in one school. It’s across the state.”

Leibach said test preparation is like getting ready for a football game.

“If you don’t know your opponent and you don’t know what their tendencies are, you’re not going to do as well as you could,” Leibach said. “We care about this test. We think it matters because it absolutely can open doors for students and their families.”

Across Wyoming, 55.5 percent of students recorded scores of 3 or higher on AP exams. SHS offers 12 AP classes and 15 different AP exams, including AP computer science, which eight students took this year and scored a 4.25 average, significantly up from 2.9 in 2017. Out of eight students who took the computer science test, three scored 5, four scored 4 and one scored 3.

“To be able to see that program starting to take hold, that’s one of the scores that without question we’re most proud of,” Leibach said.

SHS business education teacher Shirley Coulter and Sheridan College computer technology education instructor Anne Gunn co-taught the AP computer science course this year. Gunn joined Coulter as part of the Sheridan Computing Education Initiative, an informal partnership between Whitney Benefits, Sheridan College and Sheridan County School District 2 to enhance computer programming opportunities in the area.

Coulter had to take additional classes to teach the course and said she was learning along with some of the students. Coulter will also take one of Gunn’s computer science classes at the college this fall to keep improving.

“I have learned from her as the students have,” Coulter said. “I’ve taken a number of classes but I obviously have a lot more to learn.”

This was their first year teaching together and the second year AP computer science principles was offered as a class and test through SHS.

The teachers said their skill sets complemented each other. Gunn has the programming expertise and can help students with technical issues, while Coulter has excellent classroom management and know how to motivate students.

The AP computer science test was unusual because, unlike all of the other AP exams, it had multiple components. A written test made up 60 percent of a student’s score — it is 100 percent for the other subjects — while the other 40 percent came from two projects the students worked on throughout the year.

Coulter and Gunn used new online curriculum this year that included many coding exercises for students to work on independently. They both said the students were top-notch and the new curriculum was better suited for individual learning. Coulter added that many students are now planning to study computer science in some form in college.

“The more opportunities like this they make available to students, the more we get pushed to provide,” Gunn said.

The increased options appear to have led to more interest. Thirteen students took the course this past year and 23 are enrolled for the upcoming year.

Coulter said the best part was seeing the students develop their projects.

“Watching them get excited and inspired and taking on these projects (was) well beyond anything I could have ever imagined,” Coulter said. 

The new teaching style appears to have paid off for computer science students, and most SHS students as a whole as they continue improving their testing results.