State shows dip in ACT scores for high school juniors

By NIKKI SMITH,

According to Mississippi Department of Education (MDE) ACT results, the 2017 graduating class made gains in overall score on the spring test administration, where juniors showed a decline.

Beginning with the 2018-19 school year, some Petal High School students will be required to take specialized literacy and math courses designed for seniors whose junior-year ACT benchmark scores fell between 15 and 18.

The courses are called the Essentials for College Literacy and the Essentials for College Math. Some districts started offering the courses in 2016.

The courses are designed to “close the readiness gap” for students who are close to meeting the ACT benchmark scores.

The courses focus on the skills students must have to succeed in the workplace or college.

Out of 277 test takers, Petal High School students scored an average composite score of 20.2 on the spring exam.

The average scores on the English, mathematics, reading and science sections were 19.7, 20.2, 20.1 and 20.2, respectively.

The state average composite score among the 2017 graduating class increased from 18.4 in 2016 to 18.6 in 2017, according to MDE. 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.

Results showed an increase in all four ACT subjects of English, math, reading and science for the graduating class. The majority of student subgroups showed improvement.

In addition, an analysis by the Southern Regional Education Board (SREB) 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.”

MDE reported that 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.