Parish ACT scores decline, college-ready students up

Two public high schools in St. Mary Parish raised their average composite ACT scores, while the district’s score as a whole dropped in 2013 for seniors, the parish’s superintendent said.

The figures show results for the first year that all Louisiana high school students were required to take the ACT — regardless of whether they expressed intent to go to college.

Superintendent Donald Aguillard said that although the district’s composite score declined from 19.2 in 2012 to 18.8 in 2013, the data revealed an increase of 62 St. Mary students who scored an 18 or above, which serves as a benchmark for attending college without the need to schedule remedial coursework.

A composite score is a compilation of the English, mathematics, reading and science scores. Statewide, the composite score declined from 20.3 to 19.5.

Of note, Centerville High School increased its score from 16.9 in 2012 to 17.5 in 2013, while Patterson High School increased from 18.7 in 2012 to 18.8 in 2013. All other public high school composite scores decreased. See associated table for complete results.

Aguillard said, “I am understandably disappointed in any decline of district scores; however I feel highly confident that the state and district’s plan to increase course rigor in preparation for the ACT test will in all likelihood demonstrate positive results. Given continued emphasis on preparation for the ACT series, advancements within the high school curriculum as well as alignment of teaching strategies, St. Mary schools will continue to transition and shift to accentuate college and career readiness skills embedded in the Common Core State Standards.”

While both the junior and senior classes were required to take the exam, only the data for the senior class was reported by the school system. Additionally, Aguillard said 570 juniors and 571 seniors took the test during the 2012-13 school year. However, ACT reported results for only 515 seniors to schools. The superintendent said the school system did not know the reason for the discrepancy.

Aguillard said he anticipated that both the state and parish would experience a decline in composite scores.

“That is most likely attributed to the compulsory condition of ACT administration last school year. Newly adopted accountability measures required participation of all high school juniors and seniors in ACT testing. The emerging state focus on college readiness emphasizes the need for all students to develop college and work ready skills, regardless of postsecondary aspirations,” he said via media release.

As a component in the state’s new rigor for literacy, students in grades eight to 11 were required to participate in the spring 2013 administration of the ACT series. ACT scores are now part of Louisiana’s accountability testing program and will determine a portion of each high school’s performance score, expected to be released later this fall, Aguillard said.

In the spring, students in grades eight and nine took the Explore test while sophomores were administered the Plan test. Both Explore and Plan help gauge potential ACT scoring ranges, enabling teachers to pinpoint weaknesses for remediation. The state covered expenses associated with administering both tests as well as ACT testing of all juniors in March, the superintendent said.

The state education department says 45,303 public and private school students took the test this year, an increase of 8,569 students.

Louisiana joined the ranks of states requiring students to take the ACT because it provides students with an opportunity to measure educational progress and college readiness, while helping the state measure schools’ effectiveness.

Superintendent of Education John White said the results mean many students who might not otherwise have considered college now may go on to pursue a two-year or four-year degree.

Many will be eligible for aid through the state’s TOPS tuition plan, he added.

He downplayed the drop in the average composite score from 2012, when fewer students took the test, to 2013. “I would argue that it’s not an apples to apples comparison,” he said.

“We think it’s worth it when 3,600 kids end up eligible for college,” he said of the ACT requirement.

Information from The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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