County totals show improvement

Published 5:00 am Thursday, August 21, 2008

While the Lincoln County School District’s students’ compositeACT score improved by almost half a point in 2008, individualsubject area totals remained at or below the state average for thefifth consecutive year.

The district-wide average score on the college acceptanceexamination was 18.6. That was up from the 18.2 total last year,but still below the state average of 18.9.

Subject by subject, the district scored an average of 19 inEnglish, below the state average by three-tenths of a point; 17.8in math, below the state average by five-tenths; 19 in reading,below the state average by one-tenth; and 18.3 in science, belowthe state average by four-tenths.

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District Director of Curriculum Richelle Ratcliff said districtofficials were happy to see the composite score improve – which ithas now done for the fourth consecutive year – and are eager to seethe numbers continue to increase.

In pursuit of improving the scores, the district has implementednew ACT preparation courses into the curriculum at three of itsfour high schools, and teachers at the fourth school – EnterpriseAttendance Center – are working on their own time to preparestudents intent on taking the exam.

“Students will be taught in skills based on national standardsand taking practice tests,” Ratcliff said of the new prep courses.”Teachers will target areas that need improvement. The class sizesare small and very individualized.”

Ratcliff said teachers from each school have always worked withstudents to prepare them for the ACT, but more should participatenow that the new courses – which count for half a credit – areimplemented. She said the new courses are part of a district-wideeffort to help students prepare for college and work aftergraduation.

Ratcliff attributed the increase in the district’s compositescore to the school board’s emphasis on increasing academicstandards, increased state requirements and the efforts of theMississippi Scholars Program – all of which, she said, have led tomore county students enrolling in higher-level courses.

The same efforts also caused the number of county students whotook the ACT to increase by 37 over last year’s total to 160.Ratcliff said all students are encouraged, but not required, totake the ACT by the end of their junior year.

The encouragement could work against the composite scores,however.

The district’s composite score is likely to decrease as thenumber of students taking the test increases, Ratcliff said. Shesaid a small percentage of students taking the ACT who have notbeen through the more rigorous courses offered in the district willbe at a disadvantage on the test, causing the average score todrop.

Variables like participation are why some school officials sayACT scores are overrated as a means of determining a student’sacademic ability.

“We don’t want to measure a student’s readiness based on onetest,” Ratcliff said. “We want to create a curriculum that willchallenge and prepare them for the path they choose aftergraduation. We have to create well-rounded students that cannotonly perform on a test, but can apply knowledge in the realworld.”