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Local student performance on ACT shows improvement

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Lancaster County student performance overall on the ACT college entrance exam improved over last year, though changes made in the evaluation process make comparisons to past years difficult.

The news comes as a result of ACT data released Wednesday, Aug. 21, by the S.C. Department of Education.

ACT is a curriculum-based test intended to assess college-bound students’ academic skills and ability to complete college-level work.

The nearly three hour, multiple-choice test assesses students in English, math, reading and science on a 36-point scale. ACT also includes an optional essay writing test.

According to this year’s data, 271 Lancaster County School District seniors took the ACT in 2013, up from 259 in 2012. The composite averages on all four sections, the mean, or average, composite score, improved by three-tenths of a percent this year to 18.3 points.

ACT considers a change of three-tenths of a point as “statistically significant.” 

Lancaster County School District student performance on the English portion of the test was 16.8 points, up one-tenth of a point higher than 2012. The average score on the math portion of the test rose three-tenths of a percent, to 19.3 points.

Local students averaged 17.9 points in reading and 18.4 percent in science, though this year’s scores are not comparable to past years’ results due to changes in the ACT College Readiness Benchmarks for the subject.

This year’s science benchmark dropped one point from 24 to 23, while the reading benchmark rose by one point from 21 to 22.

The college readiness benchmarks for English and math remained the same at 18 and 22 points, respectively.

ACT defines its benchmark scores as the minimum test scores for students to have a high probability of college success.

The company defines success as “the level of achievement required for students to have a 50 percent chance of obtaining a ‘B’ or higher or about a 75 percent chance of obtaining a ‘C’ or higher” in freshman college work.

Another change that may have resulted in a drop in composite score averages in some states, ACT said, was the latest results now include scores for students with “time-extended” accommodations.

A “drop in the average ACT score should not be interpreted as a decline in student achievement; rather, the 2013 data should serve as a new baseline to which future years’ data can be directly compared,” ACT said, in explaining the change.

The national average composite score for all students was 20.9 this year, down two-tenths of a point from the previous year. The average composite scores for each subject area was 20.2 in English, 20.9 in math,  21.1 in reading and 20.7 in science.

The South Carolina average composite score for public school students was 20.1, up two-tenths of a point from 2012.

The average composite scores for all public school students in each subject area was 19.3 in English, 20.1 in math, 20.5 in reading and 20.1 in science.

Individual school results

Locally, Indian Land High School’s 54 students had the highest average composite score at 20.6. The students scored 19.6 on average in English, up from 18.5 in 2012; 21.0 in math, up from 19.4; 21.1 in reading and 20.5 in science.

Andrew Jackson High School had 30 students who took the test with an average composite score of 19.9. The students averaged 18.8 in English, up from 18.4; 21.2 in math, up from 20.3; 20.1 in reading and 19.2 in science.

Buford High School had 50 students take the test with an average composite score of 19.4. The students averaged 17.6 on English, up from 16.5 the year before; 20.4 in math, up from 19.0; 19.3 in reading and 19.8 in science.

Lancaster High School’s 137 students who took ACT averaged 15.0 in English, up from 14.9; 17.8 in math, down one-tenth of a point from 17.9; 16.6 in reading and 16.8 in science.

Jonathan Phipps, Lancaster County School District director of secondary education, said overall, district officials are encouraged by this year’s results.

“We’re making progress and we’re going to be where we want to be,” Phipps said. “When you look at it, we have more students taking the ACT and across the board increases. What that tells me, is schools are doing right in encouraging students to take ACT.”

Phipps said the district, and individual schools and their departments especially, will use the data to determine where additional focus is needed to improve performance

Though he would like to see local scores more in line with national and state performance, he is pleased that high schools here are encouraging student participation, regardless of class ranking. 

That, Phipps said, speaks volumes about a focus on individual students.

“I would dare say we have a higher percentage of our students taking the test than many (districts), which could, in turn, lower the composite scores more than those who only encourage their top students to take it,” Phipps said. “I’d rather us have a lower composite score with more students taking the test than the reverse, because that’s doing right for the students.

“I wish they (composite scores) were higher, but what more can you brag about than we’re encouraging more students to take the test – and the numbers are increasing?” he said.

ACT vs. SAT

The ACT is one of two widely-accepted major college entrance exams, the other option being the SAT.

Compiled scores released for any given year include only scores of students who graduated that year, regardless of when they took ACT.

The ACT test is curriculum-based, with an emphasis on material students have covered. It is intended to test the student’s “mastery of the material.”

The SAT, has no science section and is a logic-based test intended to test the students understanding of subject area concepts.

Students may take either test, or both, as both are universally accepted by institutions of higher learning in the United States.

Contact reporter Reece Murphy at (803) 283-1151