ACT scores rise for 2009-10 juniors

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By Phyllis McLaughlin

Trimble County High School juniors continued last year to improve their scores on the ACT test.

The state Department of Education began requiring all juniors to take the standardized exam, usually used for college admission, regardless of whether they planned to pursue higher education.

Principal Stirling “Buddy” Sampson said Friday that he was very excited about the numbers from the 2010 testing and attributes the rising scores to the dedication of the TCHS staff.

“When we started talking about the ACT, they all jumped on board,” he said, adding that the staff worked together to make school “challenging every day.” Classes at TCHS are more rigorous, and faculty is pushing students to learn, rather than trying to make learning easier, he said.

In 2008, the first year all juniors were required to take the ACT, 96 TCHS students were tested. Thirty-eight percent met the “benchmarks” set by exam preparers.

Benchmarks are part of the research-driven data that builds the ACT, Sampson said. They are based on the correlation between the grades students are making in college and what they scored in each of the four components of the ACT – English, mathematics, reading and science.

For example, the ACT benchmark for English is a score of 18. Based on a survey of 216,000 college students in the U.S., ACT determined that those scoring at least 18 had a 50 percent chance to earn a B or higher in college-level English courses. The benchmark for math is 22; reading, 21; and science, 24.

In 2009, 37 percent of the 102 TCHS juniors tested met the benchmark for English. Last year, that number jumped to 45 percent of 104 juniors tested.

The school has found the same results across the board. In 2010, 18 percent of juniors met the benchmarks for math; in 2009, 16 percent met the benchmark, and in 2008, only 8 percent met that score.

Reading scores shot a full 10 percentage points higher for TCHS juniors in 2010 over 2009: last year, 35 percent of juniors met the benchmark, while in 2009, 25 percent met that score. In 2008, 21 percent met that score.

In science, the numbers were similar. In 2008, 6 percent of juniors tested hit the benchmark. In 2009, that percentage climbed to 14 and in 2010, it climed to 18 percent.

The 2010 class actually exceeded the percentage of all students statewide who hit the science benchmark score. Statewide, only 15 percent of juniors succeeded.

The percentage of juniors in 2010 meeting the benchmark for reading was the same as that statewide percentage, 35 percent. The percentage for TCHS juniors was lower, 45 percent, than the state, which was 49 percent.

Sampson said the juniors last year also matched the state percentage of students who met benchmarks in all four components of the test 11 percent.

It was not a number that impressed him, he said, because it means that nearly 90 percent of all students in the state of Kentucky are not prepared for college.

The ACT is designed on surveys of what colleges expect students to know when they enter college, as well as what skills industry expects employees to have when they enter the workplace, Sampson said.

The state number “is awful, and 22 percent in the state making the math benchmark is not good,” he said, adding that only 10 percent of high school graduates are prepared for college in a world where 90 percent of the jobs require a college education.

Since his first year as principal, Sampson said he has been pushing the idea of college readiness – with his staff and with students – by having conversations with them starting in ninth grade about what they want to be and what colleges they want to attend.

He believes that’s behind the increased scores, as well as the reduction in the school’s drop-out rate.

Sampson said parents today think their children have the same opportunities they had, but it is no longer true. Jobs are not abundant, particularly those that don’t require some level of higher education, he said.

He wants TCHS students to aspire to four-year colleges, for two reasons. First, people who graduate from four-year college generally earn more money, he said, and second, freshmen at four-year schools are less likely to drop out and at least half are more likely to complete their degrees.

The plan seems to be working. Sampson pointed out that in 2008, 33 percent of TCHS graduates enrolled in Kentucky colleges and 6 percent in out-of-state schools. In 2009, that number jumped to nearly 53 percent enrolling in Kentucky colleges and another 10.6 percent enrolling out-of-state.

And, he pointed out that the drop-out rate in 2009 was 2.22 percent at TCHS; in 2008, it was 3.55 percent, and in 2007, 4.82 percent.