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Area schools score higher on ACT

ACT scores are up for Brookhaven High School, Mississippi School of the Arts and the Lincoln County School District, which includes Enterprise, West Lincoln, Loyd Star and Bogue Chitto High School.

Mississippi’s ACT scores inched up in the second year that all public high school graduates in the Magnolia State took the test.

MSA, an arts school in Brookhaven for 11th- and12th-graders, had a composite score of 23 this year for its junior class, improving from the average of 22.6 in 2016.

“We’re happy to be above the national and state average,” said Executive Director Suzanne Hirsch. “We’re very proud of our students.”

Brookhaven High School juniors had a composite score of 18.2 this year, with a slight improvement of their average of 18.1 in 2016.

“We had four individual students score above a 30 on their ACT,” said David Martin, principal at BHS. “Our top 5 percent of our junior class has an ACT average of 29.375, top 10 percent has an average of 27.235, top quarter has an average of 24.442 and our top 50 percent have an average of 21.885.”

Lincoln County School District students improved on their score from last year, going from a 18.7 average to 18.9 this year.

The state’s 2017 graduates, public and private, had an average composite score of 18.6 on the college entrance exam. That’s above last year’s 18.4, but below the 19 that students scored in 2014 and 2015.

The dip came when Mississippi started paying for all public high school juniors to take the test, starting with the class that graduated in spring 2016. The effect of that move was to push more students who weren’t taking strong academic offerings into the test pool, driving down the state’s average scores. The number of Mississippi students tested in the class of 2017 was 36,000, almost 7,000 more than in 2015.

“We took, as you would expect, a dip when we started the statewide administration at the 11th grade,” said Kim Benton, the chief academic officer at the Mississippi Department of Education. “What I think this shows is we’re back on the upward trend.”

The national average rebounded to 21, the same level as in 2015, after dropping to 20.8 in 2016.

Average ACT scores for Mississippi students have fluctuated between 18.4 and 19 for more than 20 years.

“I’m a huge proponent of ACT testing. It’s very important, especially when you’re getting ready to go to college. You can earn scholarships and save money on college if you do well,” said Mickey Myers, superintendent of education for Lincoln County. “We’re above the state average which is good, but we want to keep pushing our kids to be the best they can be.”

According to Myers, the ACT scores for Lincoln County schools reflect all students who take the test during the school year, which includes many junior high students that elect to take it early.

“These are solid scores. We want to improve. Our teachers have really worked hard to help our students,” Myers said.

The American College Testing program is a non-profit organization which provides a standardizing college readiness assessment for high school achievement and college admission in the United States. ACT says 12 percent of Mississippi students who took the exam were ready for college in English, math, reading and science. Nationwide, 27 percent of students meet all four benchmarks.

Only 2 percent of African-American students met all four benchmarks in Mississippi, with all black students posting an average score of 16.4. Among white students, the average score was 20.6, with 20 percent hitting college-ready levels in all four fields. Students who took a more rigorous curriculum were likely to score higher. But black students who took college preparatory courses scored worse, on average, than white students who did not.

Mississippi’s composite score was 49th among the states, with Nevada ranked last at 17.8. ACT says that because different shares of students take the test in different states, it’s hard to meaningfully rank scores by state. Average scores often get lower as more students are tested. Some states with high average scores have few students take the ACT because the SAT is the dominant college test.

Because ACT scores are used as part of Mississippi’s public school grading formula, an increasing number of districts are paying more attention to the test.

All area high schools offer ACT preparation classes to students.

“The Mississippi Scholars program, spearheaded locally by Kenny Goza and Kay Burton, plays an integral part in improving ACT scores due to the emphasis it places on more rigorous course selections,” Myers said.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.