Muscogee County School District scores at least 11-year high on ACT

The Muscogee County School District’s overall score on the ACT college entrance exam is the highest in at least 11 years. And for the first time in state history, Georgia has surpassed the national average.

MCSD’s average composite score on the four ACT subject tests of English, math, reading and science is 19.4, an increase of 0.4 points from 2015 and 0.8 points from 2014. The district’s confirmed records for ACT scores date back to only 2005, according to MCSD communications director Valerie Fuller.

Muscogee, however, remains below the state average. Georgia’s composite score in 2016 is 21.1, surpassing the national average of 20.8. Georgia’s score increased by 0.1 point from 2015 while the national average decreased 0.2 points. Alabama’s average composite score for public school graduates decreased by 0.1 point from 18.8 in 2015 to 18.7 in 2016. The highest score possible is 36.

Comparing the ACT subject tests, MCSD set 11-year highs in all areas. From 2015 to 2016, the increase was by 0.6 points in science to 19.4, by 0.4 points in math to 19.2, by 0.3 points in reading to 19.9 and also by 0.3 points in English to 18.7.

MCSD’s number and percentage of ACT takers among graduating seniors also have increased during the past four years, from 639 and 32 percent in 2012 to 908 and 44 percent in 2016.

Muscogee superintendent David Lewis told the Ledger-Enquirer in an email the overall progress is encouraging, especially in science.

“Likewise, it is noteworthy that our district continued to close the gap between district and state averages for the second consecutive year while also increasing the number and percentage of test takers,” Lewis said. “This is a testament to our students who are challenging themselves with more rigorous coursework and the focused instruction being provided by our dedicated teachers. While it is important to acknowledge our progress, we must continue pushing to further close the gap in preparing all students for successful transition to post-secondary education or training and the workplace.”

MCSD’s school-by-school 2016 ACT scores aren’t available yet, said Patrick Knopf, the district’s director of research, accountability and assessment.

The ACT and the Georgia and Alabama education departments released their scores Wednesday, but they rely on school districts to release the local scores. So far, MCSD, Harris County and Chattahoochee County are the only school systems in the Columbus area to fulfill the Ledger-Enquirer’s request.

Harris County High School’s composite score dipped for the second straight year, from 20.5 in 2014 to 20.4 in 2015 and to 20.2 in 2016. The ACT is included in the school’s improvement plan, to increase the number of test takers (which it did from 190 to 213 this past year) and to improve the scores, said Jeff Branham, the district’s chief information officer .

“We believe our numbers will continue to increase as we have more students involved in dual enrollment,” Harris County principal Todd Stanfill was quoted as saying in Branham’s email to the Ledger-Enquirer. “More students are seeing opportunities through CSU and Columbus Tech.”

Harris County’s 2016 ACT scores by subject weren’t available.

After increasing by 4.1 points from 2014 to 2015, ChattCo’s composite score decreased by 0.2 points, from 19.2 points in 2015 to 19.0 in 2016.

Comparing the 2015 and 2016 ACT subject tests, ChattCo’s scores increased in reading by 0.8 points to 20.1 and in science by 0.5 points to 19.8, and they decreased in English by 0.2 points to 18.7 and in math by 1.1 points to 17.1.

The ACT is one of the two college entrance exams in the United States. It is more prevalent in Alabama, which requires all of its public school students to take the ACT in 11th grade as a state accountability test, unless the student’s Individual Education Plan provides a waiver. Nineteen other states also administered the ACT to all of their 2016 public school graduates. Georgia increased its percentage of graduating seniors who took the ACT to its all-time high of 60 percent, compared to 58 percent last year. The SAT is more popular in Georgia, where 80 percent of graduating seniors took it last year.

Nationally, 64 percent of high school graduates took the 2016 ACT, an increase of 15 percentage points since 2011, according to the Iowa-based testing company. With nearly 2.1 million graduating seniors having taken this year’s test, up from 1.9 million last year, the ACT continues to be the most popular college entrance exam, according to U.S. News & World Report. Approximately 1.7 million graduating seniors took the 2015 SAT, produced by the New York-based College Board, which hasn’t released its 2016 results.

The Georgia Department of Education’s news release noted that Georgia’s students outperformed 26 other states and tied with one. That’s an increase from 2015, when Georgia ranked 28th in the nation, and 2014, when it ranked 30th.

“Georgia students are outpacing the nation on the ACT, even as more of our high schoolers take the test,” Georgia School Superintendent Richard Woods said in the release. “This reaffirms one of the core goals of our strategic plan, to increase the percentage of high school graduates who are college and/or career ready. It is also a testament to the hard work of our students and teachers, and to the collaborative efforts that are advancing child-centered, classroom-focused policies in the state of Georgia. Conventional wisdom holds that as more students take a test like the ACT, scores will go down – but our Georgia students proved that’s not always the case. I’m immensely proud of them all.”

Georgia had 58,073 ACT test takers in 2016, compared to 54,653 in the graduating class of 2015 – a 5.9 percent increase. Since 2012, the number of ACT test takers has increased by more than 10,000 students, from 47,169 in 2012 to 58,072 in 2016.

The Alabama State Department of Education’s news releases noted 50,529 Alabama public high school students and graduates took the ACT in 2016, compared to 33,541 in 2012. Implementation of statewide testing has significantly decreased the percent of Alabama students who take the ACT for the first time as seniors: Blacks are down to 2.8 percent from 72 percent in 2008; Hispanics are down to 2.9 percent from 67 percent in 2008; and whites are down to 2.2 percent from 56 percent in 2008.

“By providing greater access through the statewide administration of the ACT test, we are able to get a more comprehensive picture of the number of students who are meeting college- and career-ready benchmarks,” Interim Alabama Superintendent of Education Philip Cleveland said in the release. “While there is room for improvement, we are encouraged by the consistent growth in the right direction. Through Alabama’s PLAN 2020 and its improvement strategies, we will continue to work toward ensuring our students are on track for success in college and the workforce, upon graduation from high school.”