ACT scores give reason to celebrate, show areas to study

Maryville City Schools Assistant Director of Schools Mike Winstead discusses the recently released ACT scores for the city school system.

Photo by Leslie Karnowski

Maryville City Schools Assistant Director of Schools Mike Winstead discusses the recently released ACT scores for the city school system.

If Alcoa was a state, they would be ranked just outside the top 10 in the country in their ACT composite score.

Dr. John Campbell, director of curriculum for the City of Alcoa Schools, said that piece of trivia came after his staff saw Tennessee was ranked 50th in the country in composite ACT scores. “We were doing some quick calculations, and if Alcoa was a state, we would rank 11th and tie with Delaware,” he said.

At Maryville City Schools, Dr. Mike Winstead, assistant director of schools, said the administration was pleased to learn students in the 2011 graduating class had the highest average ACT scores in recent memory.

“As far back as I can see, these are the best ACT scores we’ve experienced,” he said. “As far as we recall, this is the best performing class we’ve ever had. We’re really excited.”

At Blount County Schools, there was a slight dip in averages from 2010. In answer to that, the system will focus on providing more rigorous coursework to better prepare students to improve ACT scores, said Dr. Jane Morton, Blount County Schools instructional supervisor for grades 6-12 and testing coordinator for K-12.

“We pay attention to lot of things that have to do with increasing ACT scores at the school level, but, to me, the most important focus is on the individual students and what they’re able to accomplish, and how we can help them get there,” she said.

Composite ACT scores were recently released and reports were issued to each school district in the state. The ACT consists of curriculum-based tests of educational development in English, mathematics, reading and science. It is designed to measure the skills needed for success in first-year college coursework.

Winstead said this report looks at the last test scores of all the students who graduated in last year’s class.

“If a student took it as sophomore, the scores are held until the graduating class, so you’re comparing apples to apples,” he said. “If they took it once or five times, it’s the last attempt that goes into the report,” he said.

Winstead said comparing Tennessee scores as a state to other states is somewhat unfair. In 2009, the state made it mandatory that every high school junior in Tennessee has to take the ACT test. Tennessee is one of a handful of states where all juniors have to take the test, Winstead said.

“Those states will look different from North Carolina or Georgia where only kids who want to go to college take it,” he said.

“Tennessee would be much more competitive if the test was just given to kids going to college. If you flip it around - the SAT in our state is taken only by those who want to go to an ACC school or a West coast school or an Ivy League school,” he said. “Tennessee is listed as one of the top 10 states in the country (regarding SAT scores).”

Whatever the focus, Maryville City Schools are happy with this year’s report. Winstead said the average composite score was for the Maryville High School graduating class of 2011 was 24.4. “Last year it was 23.4, so that’s a full point increase,” he said. “That is unbelievable. That is the part that gets us excited -- the growth.”

At Maryville City in 2011, sublevel averages were: English: 25.0, Math: 23.8, Reading: 24.4 and Science: 23.8.

In 2010, sublevel averages were: English: 23.9, Math: 22.9, Reading: 23.4, and Science: 23.0.

“It goes back to what is happening in the classroom day-in and day-out as the teachers are working with the kids,” Winstead said.

Winstead said the high school has been stressing the importance of students taking rigorous classes and encouraging students to take a fourth year of science. “We went from three-quarters of the kids who would take science as seniors to now almost all of them take science as seniors,” Winstead said.

Alcoa also sees increase

At Alcoa, the composite scores also came up from 2010. In addition, almost a third of the students who took the ACT from Alcoa High School averaged around 28 for their composite ACT score, said John Campbell said. “We have a pretty high performing group in the high school in 2011,” he said.

Campbell said the 2011 graduating class composite score was 22.4. This was an increase from the 2010 composite score of 21.5, he said.

In 2011, sublevel averages were: English: 22.6, Mathematics: 21.4, Reading: 22.9, and Science: 22.4.

In 2010, sublevel averages were: English: 21.4, Mathematics: 20.7, Reading: 22.0, and Science: 21.6

Campbell said the increase in ACT scores was because teachers are taking time on a regular basis to focus on preparing students for the ACT.

“I won’t say every teacher, but more teachers are focusing on ACT college-ready standards. I can’t say it’s a deep, systemic effort, but teacher-by-teacher, they are picking it up,” he said. “I guess there has been increased awareness of what is on the test, and they are trying to increase the odds. We want the students to have a little more capacity to get where they want after high school.”

Campbell said teachers have test prep activities for students that are blended into the high school courses. “Every Monday our teachers in the high school work on utilizing an ACT-type question all within the content that teacher would normally teach. Whether teaching algebra or social studies or science, they try to do an ACT-type drill every Monday,” he said.

County show slight decrease

Jane Morton at Blount County Schools says the county’s two high schools are looking at the big picture: how prepared the students are for college course work.

“To me, the great big picture for composite scores for any school is how we’ve done as far as the student’s level of college preparation and how prepared they are for college course work,” Morton said.

The decreases at the county high schools was very slight. At Heritage High School, the 2011 graduating class composite score was 18.9. The 2010 graduating class composite score was 19.1.

In 2011, sublevels averages were: English: 18.4, Mathematics: 18.3, Reading: 19.3, and Science: 18.9.

In 2010, sublevels averages were: English: 18.7, Mathematics: 18.7, Reading: 19.7, and Science: 18.7.

At William Blount High School, the 2011 graduating class composite score was 19.5. The 2010 graduating class composite score was 19.6.

In 2011, sublevels averages were: English: 19.2, Mathematics, 18.9, Reading: 20.1, and Science: 19.2.

In 2010, sublevels averages were: English: 19.4, Mathematics: 19.1, Reading: 19.9, and Science: 19.3.

To increase composite scores, Morton said the system is looking inside the test at content areas, and teachers are concentrating on improving student performance in those areas.

“Math on the ACT is a predictor of success in college algebra, and it the same with biology. Those are two areas we need to place more emphasis on,” she said. “The emphasis isn’t just what we do in math class, but also in trying to get students into higher level math courses and getting them in the classes sooner. We want to get them well prepared coming into high school so they can progress as quickly as is good for them to go through the math curriculum. This way they will get more math courses behind them before they take the ACT,” said Morton, adding that the same can be said for science.

Morton said that, in general, it is a matter of seeing where students need more support. “The big step we are taking toward helping students prepare for the ACT is determining in which areas we need to provide more support and more opportunities to provide advanced level courses.”

Morton said a new schedule implemented at both high schools this year allows for more courses. “We look at individual student performance on tests, and we look at course selections we have available to students to help prepare them. Doing well on the ACT, in turn, prepares them for better success in college-level courses,” she said.

Morton said the ACT is an important tool that measures success and also unlocks opportunity for students.

“We value the importance of the ACT for individual students as much as we do as measure of how well each school is doing because so much rests on ACT,” she said. “It is the doorway to the post-secondary education experience, and it is the step toward all the Hope and lottery scholarship for the students.”

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bapman1 writes:

Tennessee is being painted a bit unfairly by these ACT results, given that unlike most states, Tennessee tests 100% of its seniors. (North Carolina, which scored above the national average, tests just 18% for example.) And recent changes have been encouraging. The state was one of just a few to raise standards over the past several years, and its First to the Top plan focuses squarely on boosting student achievement using value-added assessment (the state's TVAAS program) as its central pillar. For more on FTTT and TVAAS, see www.education-consumers.org - lots of good info, along with school- and district-level rankings on various metrics.

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