School district sees drop in ACT scores

By BUSTER WOLFE,

Some Lamar County high school students would be forced to take specialized literacy and math courses during the 2018-19 school year because their junior-year ACT scores fell between 15 and 18 in benchmark scores.

ACT scores were released last week for all juniors who were tested last school year and are now hoping to graduate. Some Lamar County students did not meet the benchmark results in last school year’s ACT results.

Lamar County high school juniors last school year averaged 19.2 overall on the ACT, with the lowest average score in English (18.7). The 677 test takers averaged 19.4 in mathematics, 19.3 in reading and 19.1 in science.

Of the individual high schools in Lamar County, Oak Grove’s 415 test takers average 19.6 in English, 20.1 in both math and reading and 19.8 in science for 20.0 overall. Purvis, which had 147 juniors taking the test, averaged 16.9 in math, 17.8 in both math and science and 17.9 in reading for an overall ACT average of 17.7. At Sumrall with 115 test takers, the averages were 17.8 in English, 18.6 in math and 17.9 in both reading and science for an overall 17.7 average.

Lumberton High School’s 36 juniors finished with averages last school year of 14.9 in English, 15.9 in math, 16.5 in reading and 17.1 in science for an overall ACT average of 16.2.

Lamar County Superintendent Tess Smith said she is pleased with the results of the tests.

“I will always praise the efforts of our students and staff,” she said. “Content is another matter. It is our job to push and encourage students to do better. We will continue to do that in all things.”

The courses that will be required are called the Essentials for College Literacy and the Essentials for College Math, and some districts started offering the courses in 2016. The courses were developed specifically to help close the readiness gap for students who are on the cusp of meeting the ACT benchmark scores. The courses focus on the skills students must have to succeed in the workplace or college.

Smith said those courses will replace the current Southern Regional Education Board classes.

“They were released after school started,” she said. “It may be that they are being 'piloted' in some schools.”

Smith said Lamar County does not “direct teach” the ACT.

“But I do think that there are several things that we do that benefit our students,” she said. “For example, the SREB courses, we push/offer ACT prep courses both on and off campus, we build ACT-style questions and vocabulary into our curriculum.”

The Mississippi Department of Education said ACT results for the 2017 graduating class showed gains, while scores on the spring 2017 test administration for juniors declined.

The average composite score among the graduating class increased from 18.4 in 2016 to 18.6 in 2017, and the average score among juniors decreased from 18.3 in 2016 to 18 in 2017.

The percentage of graduates meeting the benchmark scores for all four tested subjects increased from 11 percent in 2016 to 12 percent in 2017, and the percentage decreased among juniors from 11 percent to 10 percent.

There was a 5 percent increase in the number of juniors taking the ACT in 2017, while the number of test takers in the graduating class increased 1 percent.

The graduating class saw scores increase in all four ACT subjects of English, math, reading and science. The majority of student subgroups showed improvement. In addition, an analysis by the Southern Regional Education Board found that Mississippi was one of three Southern states where the achievement gap narrowed between African-American and white students.

“ACT scores among graduates are rising as more students take advantage of advanced coursework opportunities,” said Dr. Carey Wright, state superintendent of education. “Also, testing students in their junior year helps teachers identify students who need further support to help them achieve higher scores before they graduate.”

ACT research has also shown that taking certain specific courses in high school substantially increases students’ readiness for college level work as well as their readiness for workforce training programs.

Among the 36,026 2017 graduates who took the ACT, students who took four or more years of English and three or more years each of math, social studies and science outperformed their peers who reported taking fewer courses in these subjects. The average composite score among students who completed more than the required core courses was 19.7, compared to 17.4 for students who took fewer courses.

ACT is a curriculum-based assessment designed to measure the skills high school teachers teach and what instructors of entry-level college courses expect.

An ACT benchmark score is the minimum score needed on an ACT subject-area test to indicate a 50 percent chance of obtaining a B or higher or about a 75 percent chance of obtaining a C or higher in the corresponding credit-bearing college courses, which include English Composition, Algebra, Social Science and Biology.

The Mississippi Department of Education will continue to offer districts training related to analyzing ACT data, evaluating course taking patterns and designing ACT preparation courses.