Local ACT scores edge higher

Jefferson City, Helias and Blair Oaks high schools saw their average ACT composite scores jump in 2014, following a statewide trend that saw scores rise for the first time in nearly a decade.

However, according to a report issued by the corporation last week, most Mid-Missouri test takers still are not ready for college level work.

In the Jefferson City Public Schools, 392 students took the exam and earned a composite district-wide score of 21.7 — just barely falling short of the statewide average of 21.8. At Blair Oaks, 97 students took the exam, earning a composite score of 22.5. Helias Catholic High School’s composite score was 24.3 — higher than it has been in the previous five years.

It’s all part of a larger trend.

According to the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, after nearly a decade of scoring at 21.6, Missouri graduates raised their ACT scores to 21.8, which is higher than the national average of 21.

The number of Missouri students — about 352 fewer — taking the test decreased slightly between 2013 and 2014.

“We’re pleased to see higher ACT scores across our state,” Chris Nicastro, commissioner of education, said. “Our teachers are working hard to improve college readiness, and these scores are an indication that we’re moving closer to our goal of being among the top 10 states in education by 2020.”

The tests also measures if students are ready for college.

Area students did best in college English composition. Locally, 69 percent of Jefferson City’s test takers, 85 percent of Blair Oak’s test takers and 90 percent of Helias’s test takers earned “benchmark scores,” meaning they achieved the minimum score needed in a subject area to have a 50 percent chance of obtaining a B or higher or a 75 percent chance of a C or higher in college-level courses. (In English composition, it’s an 18 on the ACT.)

Local students performed the worst in college biology. Only 47 percent of Blair Oaks and Jefferson City test takers earned “benchmark scores” in that subject. Teens at Helias also struggled in biology, although those student’s scores were higher than the two public schools’ marks. At Helias, 58 percent of students were determined to be ready for college-level course work.

Performance in math was mixed. Forty-six percent of Jefferson City’s test takers will probably head off to college relatively prepared, compared with 54 percent of students at Blair Oaks and 65 percent of students at Helias.

Overall, the report indicates that most students aren’t ready for college just yet. In Jefferson City and Blair Oaks, fewer than a third of test takers were deemed to have met the criteria in all four subject areas — English, algebra, social science and biology. At Helias, the number was 43 percent.

For the most-advanced math students, the scores are much more competitive.

Jefferson City’s advanced students — those who took five math classes, including trigonometry and calculus — had average ACT scores of 24.6, compared with 23.5 at Blair Oaks and 25 at Helias.

In letters sent to the school, ACT researchers have reported that it is the rigor of the coursework — rather than simply the number of core courses — that have the greatest achievement on performance and college readiness.

Sr. Barbara Neist, coordinator for curriculum and instruction at Helias, said school leaders were “proud” to see the ACT scores for the Class of 2014 continue to exceed state and national averages.

“This is exceptional since 96 percent of the class took the ACT,” she said.

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