ACT scores have board pondering changes

ACT results from the 2011-2012 school year have Mexico School Board members thinking of more effective ways to increase student performance and administrators asking if the students are being challenged enough.
While some progress is being made, administrators say student performance on the ACT could be better with more rigorous course schedules.
"When students pursue a vigorous course schedule at MHS they are more likely to do well on the ACT; in fact the average score is above the state average," Mexico High School Principal Dr. Terry Robinson told the Mexico School Board at its regular monthly meeting Tuesday night. "The work to be done is to raise expectations and requirements for all students across the district. Then better utilize our guidance and counseling and academic resources for identification and intervention with students.
"Access and equity, along with data being used to make placements of student in more challenging courses should be examined K-12."
Robinson said about half of the students taking the ACT test were underprepared for the rigor of the test, which means "our school system must begin to think with the end in mind, from grades K-12."
"If we want students better prepared for pursuing college, the end result of the work of our system is evidenced at the high school. In addition, it is also a reflection of the demographic issues we struggle to address," Robinson said.
Some examples of what Robinson believes should be reviewed in the near future include:
• More students coming from Mexico Middle School need to be prepared to complete Algebra I their freshman year. Current enrollment in Math 1 is approximately 25 percent of the current freshman class – which is an indicator 1/4 of the students will not complete enough math to score well on the ACT and do well in college. In addition, 13 percent of our freshmen are in special education services for math. These percentages represent approximately 38 percent of the current freshman class or 59 of the 187 students.
• More students achieving in all classes at a "C" level or above. "D" grades or "barely passing" grades are not sufficient preparation. In this regard, the school has seen some improvement with a nearly 50 percent reduction in failing grades for the 2011-12 school year when compared to the 2010-2011 school year. The district, Robinson said, needs to work towards grades reflecting overall learning as much as possible.
In addition, about 40 percent of MHS students choose to go to two-year colleges (class of 2012), which do not require the ACT, or a minimum score. This, Robinson said, is significant to note because those students do not need to take the ACT to pursue learning after high school.
Robinson noted that the A+ scholarship emphasis and the community desires for further education at a lower cost has probably led to the rise in two-year college attendance. These students could go on to four-year schools. "Thirty-four percent of our class of 2012 entered the workforce, pursued parenting or their outcome could not be determined; 19 students could not be reached," Robinson said.
Following is a comparison of 2011 versus 2012 graduates taking the ACT:
2012 graduates
• 114 students took the ACT in the class of 2012. The last score earned by the student is part of the final report, not the highest score they achieved.
• 50 percent (or 57 of the114) self-reported they completed a rigorous course schedule (called "core or more" by ACT) at MHS – four years of English, three or more years each of math (algebra I, II and geometry), social students, and natural sciences. This is up by 9 percent from 2011 and a good indicator, Robinson said.
• The MHS average score for these 57 students on a rigorous course schedule was 22.8 The state average score for students reporting they took a rigorous course schedule was 22.3.
2011 graduates
• 74 students took the ACT in the class of 2011; 41 percent (30 of the 74) reported they completed a rigorous course schedule at MHS. The MHS average for these 30 students on a rigorous course schedule was 23.4. The State average was 22.4.
"Based on these results, if students prepare for ACT by taking a rigorous course schedule at MHS they can expect to score higher than the state average," Robinson said. He also noted the ACT will continue to present a real challenge for students coming to the high school if they choose to take less than a rigorous course schedule.
"Teachers are committed and focused on the areas to address with students to help them be successful. The rigorous track necessary to prepare students at MHS exists and we must ensure it is accessible to all students and that students are prepared to push themselves when they arrive at MHS," Robinson said. He reiterated that "not all students should take the ACT since many choose a different path other than four years of college in our community."
In closing, Robinson urged teachers to continue their improvement efforts, to take a closer look where and how the students are being grouped in their classes, to make certain the data being used is what's best for the students, and try to test more. "We will see the growth in the scores," he said.
Board members were also given a preview of the MAP Performance and how it impacts Mexico School District No. 59. District Assistant Superintendent Dr. Zachary Templeton said the district could be doing better. He advises educators to devote more time to critical things such as reading, writing, talking and listening in class, and he also said parent participation, support and encouragement are imminent for student success.