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Graduation rate is up but ACT scores show room for improvement

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By The Staff

Marion County High School's graduation rate increased by eight percent during the 2009 school year and its students continue to improve their ACT scores, but test results released recently show there's still room for improvement.

The state Department of Education released overall results from the ACT, which all juniors in Kentucky's public schools have been required to take since 2008. The overall ACT Assessment consists of tests in four areas: English, mathematics, reading and science reasoning.

Taylora Schlosser, Marion County assistant superintendent and former principal of MCHS, reported to the Marion County Board of Education recently that MCHS juniors scored a composite of 19, which was higher than the state's average of 18.5. However, results show that not enough students are meeting college-ready benchmarks in mathematics, reading or science. However, MCHS students are exceeding college readiness benchmarks in English. (See ACT scores and benchmarks chart accompanying this story.)

According Schlosser, while all juniors are required to take the ACT they aren't all required to take more rigorous courses, which might explain why MCHS didn't reach the benchmarks in math, science and reading.

"As a district, we have got to try getting all kids in the classes that they need so that they will be prepared," she said. "It may be that our 11th grade students aren't in the classes they need to be in."

Schlosser said the high school, and district as a whole, must start encouraging students at an early age to take more rigorous courses.

Marion County Superintendent Donald Smith said convincing parents is also an obstacle the district faces.

"The hardest part is getting the parents to buy in to putting their kids in more rigorous courses," he said.

Smith also believes the English department at the high school does a better job of recruiting students to take more advanced courses.

In terms of the increased graduation rate, Schlosser credits that to an ongoing effort at MCHS to make quitting school very difficult for students.

"You can't just come in and say you want to quit," she said. "We have lots of roadblocks to try to stop that."

Schlosser said she also believes the relationship the high school has created with the Marion County Area Technology Center has helped improve the graduation rate.

"More students than ever go to ATC classes," she said. "We are trying to make as many relevant classes available to students as possible."

  Teachers' perspectives...

And while there is always room for improvement when it comes to student achievement, the teachers at MCHS have sensed a positive change among the school, especially its students. More students are enrolling in more demanding classes, such as Advanced Placement courses. In fact, the high school has more students taking AP courses than ever before. Last year, MCHS had more than 250 students enrolled in AP courses.

AP English teacher Coury Osbourne said AP courses aren't just for the "elite" students anymore.

"Personally, I think there's been a shift in the school climate," she said. "When I first taught AP English, I was pretty isolated. I went to one week-long summer institute, but besides that, I was left alone to figure it out. Only the 'elite' students took the class because of a stigma it carried, and very few people really cared about the results. Now, it's totally different. We have middle school teachers preparing their students for AP classes. We have about half our juniors and seniors in AP classes. When the results come out, the entire district is excited and the community is excited to see the results."

And the results are worth celebrating. MCHS had 91 qualifying Advanced Placement scores for the 2009-10 school year, surpassing its goal of 68. Actually, that figure only includes qualifying exams for English, math and science. The high school also had 32 students who had qualifying scores in AP social studies and an AP foreign language. And the increasing number of qualifying AP scores should be music to parents' ears because most four-year colleges in the United States give students college credit on the basis of AP exam scores. Entering college with AP credits is basically like money in the bank.

And, one primary reason the high school has had such success with its AP courses is the AdvanceKentucky grant, which is a math and science initiative the school has participated in during the last two years. Its purpose, to increase AP class participation, has worked at MCHS.

"Our young people are as equally prepared for a global economy as a teenager growing up in Louisville or in Chicago," Osbourne said. "They are receiving a quality high school education that holds them at high expectations and they have the abilities to reach, and exceed, those expectations."

Laurie Followell, who also teaches AP English at MCHS, said teachers and students alike have dedicated a lot of time, energy, and work to succeed on the ACT and AP exams.

"Teachers tried many different approaches to make this content come alive for their students," she said. "The students, in turn, had the drive to push themselves to grasp the content. This holds true for both the ACT and AP scores. Our success shows that many of our students are college-ready and I think it shows that MCHS has made a commitment to prepare students to move to the next level in their academic lives. If I were a parent, I would be excited to know that my child was going into that type of environment."

Now, taking more rigorous courses is an expectation at MCHS among the staff and students.

"I really think that our teachers have made the AP program a natural part of our school," Followell said. "I can see a desire among our AP teachers to succeed."

  ACT scores for county and state   Year         English                  Math               Reading          Science          

                 MC     KY            MC     KY          MC     KY          MC   KY

2008     18.9     17.3          18.7   18.1         18.2 18.5      18.8     18.7    

2009     18.4     17.3          19.2   18.2         18.3 18.4      18.4     18.5    

2010     18.5     17.8          19.3   18.3         19.3 18.9      18.2     18.7                           *18                       *22                     *21                   *24         * ACT, Inc. developed College Readiness Benchmarks in English, mathematics, science and reading, with research indicating that students who reach those have a 50 percent chance of obtaining a B or higher or about a 75 percent chance of obtaining a C or higher in the corresponding credit-bearing college course.   Graduation and dropout rates   Year       Graduation rate       Dropout rate

2005      84.77 percent          15.23 percent

2006      82.27 percent          17.73 percent

2007      85.50 percent          14.50 percent

2008      82.28 percent          17.72 percent

2009      90.41 percent          9.59 percent

  ACT Average Scores   Casey          17.8   Green          17.5

Washington     18

Taylor          18.5   Nelson          18.5   Marion          19   LaRue          19.4   * State          18.5