St. Al, PCA top public schools in ACT scores

Published 12:04 pm Friday, September 3, 2010

Local private and parochial school students taking the ACT college entrance exam in 2010 outpaced their public school peers in Vicksburg and across the state, newly released reports show.

At St. Aloysius High School, the 32 students tested scored a composite average of 21.9 for the four subject areas — English, math, reading and science — and 17 seniors at Porters Chapel Academy scored 19.5 on the composite measure, compared to 18.6 for Vicksburg Warren School District and 18.8 on average across Mississippi.

All scores are out of a possible 36.

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St. Al’s students scored nearly 5 points higher in English, 23.3, than the 18.6 state average. English department head Lisa Reid said teachers and administrators are pleased but not satisfied.

“Truthfully, we would like to keep bumping it up,” Reid said. “We’d like the score to be closer to 25.”

Reid said the school stresses sound foundations in English, including writing across curriculum areas, reading, and fundamentals of grammar.

With an average English score of 19.6, Porters Chapel students also topped the state average, while VWSD, at 18.2, fell just below their peers.

“As a district, our scores mirrored what the state has done,” said Superintendent Dr. Elizabeth Swinford, “Where they dropped, we tended to drop, and where they maintained, we maintained. There was not a marked difference between Vicksburg and the rest of the state.”

The district’s scores have gradually declined in the past five years, from a composite 19.1, an English average of 19.6 and a reading average of 19.3 in 2006. Scores in math and science have held relatively steady.

The superintendent said she was encouraged, however, that the trend is for more students to take the ACT, which is offered a number of times each year and taken by students nationwide as one of two predominant college entrance exams, the other being the SAT.

The district saw 367 students take the test in 2010, compared to 341 in 2006, Swinford said, which she believes means more students want to go on to college.

According to the ACT, a student should score a benchmark of at least 18 on the English test to be considered ready for college-level composition.

At PCA, 87 percent met this threshold. “This is 34 percent higher than the (state’s) 53 percent,” said headmaster Doug Branning. “We’re very proud of the numbers. We’re proud of our students and we’re proud of our teachers.”

About 50 percent of VWSD students tested in the college readiness range for English, about 30 percent for social science, less than 20 percent for algebra and about 12 percent for biology. Fewer than 10 percent met the benchmark for all four subjects.

Swinford said separate reports for Vicksburg and Warren Central high schools were not available, but she expected they would show more clearly where “targeted assistance” is needed to bump up certain scores versus providing a greater concentration of remedial help as a broader measure.

Besides seeming to indicate more interest in attending college, the increase in test-takers also means more students are becoming comfortable taking standardized tests, she said.

“One good thing about the Mississippi accountability requirement is that it has prepared the kids to be better test-takers,” Swinford said. “They’re willing to come in and take the ACT — they’re not scared of it.”

“We’ve always stressed the importance of the ACT and standardized tests to their future,” Reid said of St. Al’s students. In the past the school offered ACT and PSAT practice courses for its students on an optional basis, but that has changed this year, guidance counselor Kim Stribling said.

“We’re emphasizing the importance of standardized test scores by offering a Test Prep class,” said Stribling. “We offer it to students, especially the juniors and seniors, to provide them opportunities to increase their skills. It’s part of our curriculum for the first time.”

The ACT is separate from the state subject-area tests required for high school students to graduate. It was first administered in 1959 and is taken as a college entrance measurement by students in all 50 states. It can be taken as many times as a student desires, costing $33 for the basic test and $48 if the student elects an optional writing component.

Nationally, 24 percent of ACT-tested high school graduates met or surpassed all four benchmarks, the ACT stated. The national average ACT composite score was 21, down slightly from 21.1 in three of the past five years.