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Getting its ACT together: Georgia's scores improve while nation's scores decline

POSTED: August 18, 2008 5:00 a.m.
SCOTT ROGERS/The Times

Gainesville High School juniors and seniors discuss the epic poem Beowulf during literature class Wednesday afternoon. According to an organization of southern schools, white teens are improving their scores on the ACT, but there are gaps between their results and those of black and Latino students. The test assesses high school students' educational development and ability to complete college-level work.

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Georgia high school seniors made gains on the ACT this year, while the national average for the college entrance exam fell.

According to the state Department of Education, the state’s composite ACT score rose to 20.6 in 2008, up from 20.3 in 2007. The national average of 1.3 million students’ scores fell to 21.1, down from 21.2 last year. In all ACT subjects — English, reading, math and science — Georgia’s scores increased, bumping the state to 41st in national ACT rankings for 2008, up from 44th last year and from 47th in 2002.

Alan Richard, communications director for the Atlanta-based Southern Regional Education Board, said Southern states bucked the national trend by maintaining or improving their state ACT averages.

"This is good news for Georgia, because we are often ranked toward the bottom of (Scholastic Aptitude Test) score averages," Richard said.

This year, Georgia’s black students scored 0.6 points higher than black students across the nation, and Georgia’s Latino students scored 1.5 points higher than Latino students across the nation. Also, in a statement released by the state Department of Education, for the first time in recent years, Georgia’s white students also outscored their peers across the nation.

With 38 percent of Georgia students having taken the ACT this year, local educators said high school juniors and seniors on the East Coast predominately take the SAT to prepare for college. But as ACT scores rose in Georgia, so did the number of minorities taking the ACT.

Since 2004, Georgia nearly has doubled the number of black students who took the ACT to more than 11,000 this year, and has more than doubled the number of Latino students who took the ACT to 1,035, Richard said.

"One of the things that’s significant, I think, is that many more minority students are taking college admissions tests in Georgia, which is an indication many more of our minority students are intending to go to college," he said.

"Even as those numbers have increased, average scores have gone up for those students, especially Hispanics ... Although many Hispanics are not taking the ACT yet. We need to engage more of them in college and career training since they’re such a large and growing group in Georgia now," Richard said.

Richard attributes the increase in ACT test takers and scores to schools doing a better job of meeting the needs of minority students and to students taking more rigorous classes.

Richard said that in Georgia, on a scale of 0 to 36, white students averaged a score of 22.3, Asian students averaged 23.2, Latino students averaged 20.2, while black students averaged a score of 17.4.

Linda Youngblood, principal of the Arts and Sciences Academy at Gainesville High School, said Georgia "absolutely, always" has work to do for minority students to catch up to their peers. She said about 75 percent of Gainesville High’s students are minorities.

"We’re working on getting kids ready for these standardized tests to get them into college," she said.

Youngblood said the national trend of more minorities taking the ACT holds true at Gainesville High School. She said school counselors encourage students to take both the ACT and the SAT their junior year.

Kay Holleman, head of guidance and college counseling at Gainesville High School, said some students perform better on the ACT than on the SAT, preferring the ACT’s different approach to testing.

Holleman said counselors meet with parents of ninth- through 12th-graders each year to discuss their child’s plan to attend a four-year, two-year or technical school after graduation, or to discuss postsecondary options such as jobs or the military.

Youngblood said Gainesville High School’s composite average for this year’s ACT scores has yet to be determined, but last year’s average was 20.5, up .2 from the state average, yet still below the 2007 national average of 21.2. She said counselors’ roles are crucial in raising students’ scores.

"For so many of our students, with having a diverse population ... we have an awful lot of parents who don’t have the background of being college graduates, of knowing anything about getting their child ready for college," she said. "So having the parents come in every year to talk with counselors and giving parents information is a huge part of it."



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