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ACT exam results show that Marion County High School students aren't taking the appropriate "core" courses before their junior and senior years and, as a result, they aren't fully prepared for college-level work.
"One thing that has to be worked on is scheduling at the high school," Marion County Superintendent Dr. Chuck Hamilton said to school board members during their regular monthly meeting Tuesday of last week.
The ACT exam results show that last year's junior class at MCHS scored below the state average in all content areas. The junior class also scored below the state average in meeting the benchmarks that are set for each subject area. Students who meet the benchmarks are expected to perform well in college courses. Failing to meet those benchmarks, according to Hamilton, is a definite indicator that not enough students are taking the core classes that prepare them for college.
The numbers seem to definitely back up Hamilton's claim.
Of the juniors who took the ACT, 109 of them had been enrolled in "core or more" courses and scored a composite score of 19.9 on the ACT, while the 114 students who had not taken those courses scored 16.9.
Hamilton reported to the board that the high school is looking at current master scheduling and student scheduling to try and assure students can take higher-level courses by the end of their junior year.
In regards to last year's senior class, the overall ACT composite score was 19.5, slightly below the state average of 19.8, but up from when they took the exam as juniors and scored an 18.6.
"Remember most of the graduates did not retake the ACT so this improved score was based on approximately half the class or less," Hamilton said in a written report to the board.
School board members expressed their concern about the recent drop in ACT scores.
"I don't want us to take this lightly. We dropped," Board Member Bernard Miles said.
Board Member DeLane Pinkston echoed Miles' sentiments.
"We keep talking about continued progress. We don't want to go backwards," Pinkston said.
Miles went on to express his concerns.
"We're slipping," he said. "And standards are only going to get tougher."
Pinkston said school leadership must be held accountable for the drop in scores.
"I'd be surprised if Mr. Hall isn't feeling that already," Hamilton said.
MCHS Principal Stacey Hall wasn't at last week's school board meeting, but the Enterprise spoke with him the next day regarding the ACT scores. While he agreed that some changes need to be made with scheduling, he also mentioned some other variables that could have had an impact on test scores.
"We went from a dual-semester schedule to a tri-semester back to dual-semester," he said. "We've gone from one principal to an interim principal to a new principal. We have to have some consistency so that we can all focus."
Hall also said the changes in the state assessment also affected the school's focus.
"We've been so caught up in trying to address the state assessment changes that the ACT has sort of took a back burner," he said. "In the end, we have to focus on ACT, end of course assessments and college and career readiness."
In an effort to refocus on the ACT, the high school is going to be having ACT study sessions on Saturdays, and each "core team" at the high school has an ACT plan on how they are going to address ACT standards.
"It's going to take the next five years to see if we're making gains," Hall said. "We want to be in the top tier of schools in the state and right now we're not. But now we're focused and we're going to work toward getting to where we want to be."