ACT scores up but school board plans for improvement

Friday, April 17, 2015

By Ivory Riner

Staff Writer

It's the biggest test of a high school student's career -- the ACT -- and in Marshall County the average score has risen 2.7%.

"Improving ACT scores is one of our district's priorities next year because we want to maximize the opportunities our students have," said Jackie Abernathy, director of Marshall County schools.

During the 2012-13 school year, the average score was an 18.5 out of 36; that jumped to 19.0 for the 2013-14 school year.

Next year, according to Abernathy, the ACT will be one of the scores used to determine how well the school district is meeting state standards. It will be based on how many students in the last senior class scored 21 or higher on the test.

The district's approach to improving ACT scores will include promoting community and parent awareness, embedding ACT concepts and skills in core classes and providing each junior-class student with an improvement plan using online and book support.

Abernathy plans to use the Pareto ACT Data Analysis Improvement Plan to see how schools are doing next year, pending school board approval. She said this program has been used with much success in Williamson and Wilson counties.

The ACT -- formerly called the American College Test -- serves as a college readiness and placement test with four multiple-choice sections - English, mathematics, reading and science. The test has 215 questions with time limits for each section.

High school students must make certain scores to gain entry to a postsecondary institution. For a student to get accepted to a public school like Middle Tennessee State University, they must have a composite score of 22. The composite score is the average of the scores on all four sections of the test.

Private schools require higher composite scores -- 26 at Belmont University -- often substantially higher than the average score in Marshall County.

In addition to bragging rights and college admissions, a higher composite score can help a student get scholarships and other financial aid.

To get the Hope Lottery Scholarship, a student must score a 21 on the ACT test. This scholarship gives $1,500 per semester to community college students and $1,750 per semester to freshman and sophomore students who attend four-year universities. That money doesn't have to be paid back. Students at four-year universities as juniors and seniors are eligible for $2,250 per semester.

Three years ago, the state mandated that students in the 2013 graduating classes had to meet all of the ACT readiness benchmarks in order to graduate with honors. Before, honorees were determined by their grade point average.

For University of Tennessee at Chattanooga student Meribeth Brannon, the math and science sections of the ACT were the most difficult. She took the test four times to reach her best composite score, a 26.

The benchmark readiness score for the English portion is an 18, mathematics and reading a 22 and science a 23. Brannon met all the criteria to graduate with honors in 2013, which earned her the Hope Lottery Scholarship and the Provost Scholarship from UTC -- a reward of $3,000 per year towards her tuition.

Brannon credits her success to the ACT Prep class she took in high school conducted by math teacher Mike Whitehead at Marshall County High School. He offered the students tips and strategies for the math portion.