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Columbia Public Schools beat state, national averages for ACT scores

Thursday, August 20, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — Columbia Public Schools beat the state and national averages for scores on the ACT college entrance exams.

Columbia test-takers averaged a composite score of 23.9 in 2009, compared to an average score of 21.6 for all Missourians and 21.1 nationally, according to a press release from the school district.

The numbers represent a slight increase in composite scores by Columbia students, up from 23.8 in 2008. The percentage of students taking the test remained steady at 70 percent of each year’s graduating class. More detailed information can be found on the ACT's Web site.

The ACT measures high school students’ general educational development and readiness to complete college-level coursework. Scores range from 1 to 36, and the test uses multiple choice questions to cover four major skill areas: English, mathematics, reading and science. In all four of these areas, Columbia students' averages exceeded state and national score averages.

“We’re pretty proud of our students,” said Sally Beth Lyon, Chief Academic Officer of the district.

Lyon cited “great instruction” and the commitment of students to their own education as chief factors affecting the upward trend of the scores. She said the Columbia Public School system has worked to incorporate ACT preparation training into the general curriculum to make it more accessible to all students.  

“Hats off to our teachers for preparing our students for what’s on the test,” Lyon said.

The ACT also reports benchmark scores for college-readiness. ACT test scores are based on data linking actual performance of students in college with those students’ scores in each subject. A benchmark score is the minimum score indicating a 50 percent chance of obtaining a B or higher or a 75 percent chance of obtaining a C or higher in a first-year college course corresponding to the test subject area, according to the ACT Web site.

Columbia test averages exceeded these benchmarks in every area except for science.  The disparity, however, is slight, with Columbia students averaging a score of 23.7 in that subject. The benchmark ACT score for science, determined by college biology scores, is set at 24 according to the test's Web site, and 50 percent of students in Columbia scored at or above this score, according to Lyon.

Although Columbia average ACT scores surpass the national average, meeting college-readiness standards has proved challenging on a statewide level, with 75 percent of Missouri test-takers failing to meet the benchmarks.  

Paul Wagner, deputy commissioner of the State Department of Higher Education said this discrepancy could be based on gaps between the high school curriculum and college-level work.

“The ACT is a useful tool and the standard used to evaluate students, but I’m not sure (the scores) tell the whole story about whether students are ready for college or not,” Wagner said.  

The ACT is one of the most widely used college entrance exams. Many institutions nationwide use ACT scores to determine student admission, along with other factors such as grades, extracurricular activities and letters of recommendation. 

“ACT scores are part of being a competitive candidate. It’s our job in Columbia schools to help our students do well on the test so they can meet those benchmarks and do well once they’re there,” Lyon said.  


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