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ACT results show district differences

Results of last spring’s issuance of the ACT college entranceexamination show a disparity between the Brookhaven and LincolnCounty school districts, with city district students meeting orsurpassing state averages and the county district in need ofimprovement in tested areas.

College-minded students attending Brookhaven High Schooloutperformed the rest of Mississippi on the ACT, turning in acomposite score of 19.3, which was better than the state average of18.9 by four-tenths of a point. The score was consistent with 2008,when the district’s average was also 19.3

Students attending the four schools in the county district,however, turned in a composite score of 18.4, falling short of thestate average by half a point. The district score droppedtwo-tenths of a point from the 2008 score of 18.6.

BHS students taking the ACT matched or outscored the stateaverage subject-by-subject, turning in the highest average score onthe math portion of the test.

BHS students scored an average of 20.2 on the math portion,beating the state average of 18.3 by 1.9 points. While math was thelowest score statewide, it was the highest in Brookhaven.

Students scored an average of 19.1 in each of the threeremaining subjects – English, reading and science – still enough toequal or beat state averages for those categories.

Lincoln County students, however, saw their lowest scores inmath. The district average in that subject was 17.9, a one-tenthimprovement over last year’s 17.8, but still lower than the stateaverage by four-tenths of a point.

County students scored their highest average in English, turningin a score of 18.6, but that, too, was lower than the state averageby half a point. Science scores were the closest for countystudents, with the average of 18.5 short of the state average byjust two-tenths of a point.

The widest gulf between Lincoln County and the state appeared inreading, where county students scored 18.2 and fell short of thestate average by eight-tenths of a point.

The leaders of both districts stressed improvement on the ACTand acknowledged its importance in preparing students for collegeand judging the progress of school districts.

“The ACT is the piece of information that more accurately tellsyou how schools do compared with the rest of the nation,” saidBrookhaven School District Superintendent Lea Barrett. “I put a lotof emphasis on the ACT and the SATP (Subject Area Testing Program)so I know how we’re doing in terms of preparation for college andhow we stand with the rest of the country.”

Lincoln County School District Superintendent Terry Brister saidthe emphasis placed on the ACT in his district might have been whatbrought down district scores, as more and more county students takethe test. While 125 students in the city district took the ACT lastspring – and Barrett said most were seniors – 178 county studentswere examined, including some freshmen.

“That contributes to the fluctuation of our numbers,” Bristersaid. “At each school, we encourage taking the ACT early, notwaiting until their last year of high school. It helps familiarizethem with it and, hopefully, they will score higher. It may nothelp us right now, but the more students we can get taking this inearlier grades, the more knowledge they gain from thatexperience.”

Both districts’ performance on the ACT is the result of severalforms of preparation. Both districts are planning to adjust theirpreparation as needed.

Barrett said BHS students are prepared for the ACT by practicetests, Saturday sessions and the natural ability that comes fromsucceeding in the high school’s 12 different Advanced Placementclasses.

“We have never done that much preparation,” she said. “But wecan always do better.”

Early release is being implemented at BHS on Thursdays thisyear, Barrett said, sending students home at 1:35 p.m. once perweek and allowing teachers to use the extra time at the end of theday to do more assessments and preparation.

Furthermore, practice tests will be administered at thebeginning of the 2009-10 school year, which should let teachers andadministrators know immediately which subjects need more attentionso they can adjust enrichment and remediation, Barrett said.

Richelle Ratcliff, director of curriculum for the countydistrict, said the most recent ACT results would be used to tune upthe district’s credited ACT prep courses. The district has suchcourses at each of the four county schools, with 10-15 students ineach, she said.

“Every child taking the ACT is not in an ACT prep course, butstudents who are taking the course have seen an increase in theirscores,” Ratcliff said.