HAZARD – Most high school juniors in the Perry County and Hazard Independent school districts scored higher on the ACT exam in 2012, though scores in the county schools continue to lag behind the state average, according to data released last week by the Kentucky Department of Education.
Statewide, ACT scores for high school juniors showed improvement in each of the areas tested. The state’s overall composite jumped from 18.8 in 2011 to 19 this year, with the biggest individual jumps recorded in English and math. The ACT, which is a college entrance exam and mandated by the state for all high school juniors, is graded with a maximum score of 36.
Juniors at Hazard High School fared better than the state average, recording a 19.4 composite, an improvement over the 17.9 composite from 2011. Juniors in the city schools fared best in English with an average of 19.7, though significant increases were also seen in math, reading and science.
The district is moving in the right direction, said Superintendent Sandra Johnson, adding that the goal is to have every student ready for college or a career by the time they graduate. She credited her district’s higher scores with an increased emphasis on college and career readiness, and getting through to the students about how crucial the ACT has become not only for the district’s accountability, but for the students’ individual futures as well.
“We’re coming at them from every angle about how important their ACT scores are and how much scholarships and based on ACT scores,” Johnson said. “That is always a measure they use in determining eligibility for scholarships.”
In the county school district, scores at Perry County Central High School also jumped over the previous year. The school’s 2012 composite of 17.5 is an increase of just under a percentage point from the 16.6 score in 2011.
In the individual subject areas, Perry Central saw the biggest increase in English, jumping from 15.6 in 2011 to 17.1 in 2012, though increases were also recorded in each of the testing areas.
While Perry Central’s composite score increased, the county’s other public high school, Buckhorn, saw a decrease of one point, from 17.4 in 2011 to 16.4 in 2012. Buckhorn’s scores also dropped in each of the subject areas, with the biggest drop in English, from 16.4 to 14.8.
As a district, Perry County’s composite increased from 16.7 to 17.3, though it remains well below the state average.
The KDE also released the latest benchmark figures for the state, which are set with an individual subject score of 18 in English, 19 in math and 20 in reading. The benchmarks are set by the Council for Postsecondary Education, and are meant to determine college readiness.
In the Hazard Independent Schools, 72 juniors were tested at Hazard High School in 2012, of which 61.1 percent met the benchmark for English, well above the 56.2 percent state average and an increase from the previous year. The city schools failed to meet the state average in math and reading, as 38.9 percent and 45.8 percent of the students tested met the benchmarks, respectively. Those numbers are, however, increases from the previous year within the district.
Neither of the county high schools met the statewide benchmark averages, though Perry Central did increase their percentage on each subject area over the previous year. In English, 47.6 percent of the 208 students tested met the benchmark, while in math it was 21.6 percent and 36.5 percent in reading.
Buckhorn again lagged behind the other two public high schools, and actually saw dips in each subject area over the previous year. Only 22.6 percent of the 31 students tested met the benchmark in English, while only 19.4 percent met the figures in both math and reading.
Cindy Gabbard is the county district’s chief academic officer, and noted that the schools have now enrolled students in labs based upon issues they may be having in a particular subject area in an attempt to meet those benchmarks. Educators will also begin preparing students for the ACT in the seventh grade, a year before they will be required to take the EXPLORE test, an ACT predictor.
Additionally, freshmen will have an increased emphasis as well, a year before they will be required to take the second ACT predictor, the PLAN test. Gabbard said this plan will allow educators a four-year period to track scores and determine which students need help in specific subject areas.
“Now there will be four years of the same type of data to track students and determine if they’re on track to meet the benchmarks for ACT when they take it in the 11th grade,” she said. “We’ll have them to be able to provide intervention to make sure that they meet benchmarks.”
And if the students still don’t meet those benchmarks, Gabbard said they will be placed in labs and given future opportunities to do so before they graduate. Once they meet the benchmark, they will be removed from the lab.
“We’re very committed to getting these kids ready for college and career ready,” Gabbard said.
Superintendent Johnson also noted the importance of an early start on the ACT, and encourage parents to have their children begin taking the exam in the ninth grade.
“They need to start taking it as freshmen,” Johnson said. “Take it at least once a year. The more they take the test in a true testing situation, they’re score is going to come up every time they take it.”
Despite the gains in the city schools, Johnson added that they haven’t come close to reaching their goal just yet, and expect to find new ways of encouraging their students to keep progressing.
“We have lots more work to do,” she said. “It’s just a never ending process, and every child is different.”