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County ACT scores down
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More students in Newton County took the ACT test than ever before last year. However, the scores showed a slight decrease in all subject areas locally.

There were 591 students in the county who took the college entrance exam during the 2010-11 school year, up from just 365 in 2006. The ACT test is scored from 0-36 and covers knowledge in English, math, reading and science. There is also an optional writing portion to the test.

Overall, the system's score was 18.4, down one-half a point from last year. In English and math, the scores went down four-tenths, in reading they were down two-tenths and in science down eight-tenths. All scores were below the state average.

Alcovy High School
At AHS 196 students took the ACT, up 13 students from the year before. In English the scores dropped half a point, in math and reading seven-tenths and in science 1.3 points. The composite score dropped by eight-tenths of a point. All scores were below state average.

Eastside High School
The scores at EHS did decrease in each subject; however the school still topped the state average in English, reading and science and was just one-tenth of a point below the state in composite. Science scores were one-half a point below the national average, while English was four-tenths and reading was two-tenths of a point below national average. EHS outperformed the state and national average in college readiness indicators in both English and reading.

Newton High School
Math scores at NHS increased by one-tenth of a point, but scores in English, reading and science declined. In English four-tenths, reading two-tenths and science six-tenths. The composite score decreased by three-tenths of a point.

Sharp Learning Center
One student at Sharp took the ACT and scored below the state average.

"With just 47 of 591 students deemed ‘college ready,' we certainly have a ways to go when it comes to improving these college readiness indicators. Current ACT results did not get this way over night. Going forward, as I noted this time last year, there is simply no magic wand or silver bullet when it comes to improving student learning; just smarter' work. At the school level, ‘smarter' work must include utilizing our Professional Learning Communities to know who our struggling students are-by name-in order to provide the necessary small?group or individual remediation necessary to increasing a student's academic success and college readiness. In our high schools, for example, the new ‘Instructional Focus' period within the new schedule must be leveraged to accomplish this," said Superintendent Gary Mathews in a press release.

"Though prompted by budget reductions, the new Instructional Focus period is most timely. At the district level, it should be evident that with the ACT college readiness benchmark score of 21 in reading, and the NCSS ‘average' score at 18.8, we could make substantial gains-over time-if our students were more adept at what the ACT calls for: using referring and reasoning skills to: determine main ideas, locate and interpret significant details, understand sequence of events, make comparisons, comprehend cause?effect relationships, determine the meaning of context?dependent words, phrases, and statements, draw generalizations and analyze the author's or narrator's voice and method reading, and serious reading (and writing) suggestive of the above abilities, is the lynchpin for academic success in K?12 and in college.

"A look at our NCSS curriculum, for adequate reading (and writing) instruction and reading rigor, is in order. When all is said and done, I anticipate it will take more than just the reading or English teacher to bridge the reading gap now evident. By the time students reach high school, they very much need to be avid readers. If not, when they do enter college, they end up in a remedial track and often end up dropping out of college," concluded Dr. Mathews.

According to the press release, the school system has recently taken several steps to increase student achievement and college readiness among students: for the first time in several years, each high school now offers courses directly related to college preparedness: SAT Prep and Tools for College Success; for the first time, NCSS counselors have developed brochures that articulate-by grade level-how to prepare for college and/or careers beginning as early as the sixth grade. Each of the brochures, sixth through tenth grades, identify the most commonly used SAT words and were distributed to each student for the first time this school year (20 words per each grade level); for this 2011?12 school year, NCSS has developed common course syllabi (for the first time) and updated curriculum maps which will help ensure all classroom teachers are teaching the state's curriculum. Monitoring of the delivery of the curriculum by administrators is simplified as they can easily access the curriculum on their desktops for the first time; as part of the new NCSS curriculum maps, non?fiction reading and writing is a required emphasis. Students will be required to read specific text and respond to an associated writing prompt in all core content areas beginning in the sixth grade; for only the second year, all tenth grade students in NCSS will take the PSAT (Preliminary SAT) which will enable the school system to identify curricular strengths and weaknesses and provide students with a norm?referenced standardized testing experience.

Additionally, NCSS will use AP Potential, a part of the reporting mechanism of the PSAT, to identify students who have the potential to perform well in more Advanced Placement (AP) courses. Through the restructuring of the high school day, an "Instructional Focus" period was added. This high school period serves as a "safety?net" for struggling students, but also offers the opportunity for students to participate in enrichment activities. During the Instructional Focus period, NCSS high schools plan to add "advisement" as an integral tool to connect with small groups of students while encouraging them to take courses necessary to assist with their post?secondary plans.

According to Mathews, "'College readiness' is a very important indicator of school system quality when it comes to companies looking to locate here or parents who wish their children to be prepared for college success. And, in the near future, the state of Georgia's new Adequate Yearly Progress or ‘AYP' proposal to the federal government is all about ‘college and career ready' inclusive of ACT results."

He added, "When it comes to state and national testing, I believe our public should be aware that there is apparently little relationship between how well our school system performed on last year's Georgia High School Graduation Tests and last year's ACT. You may recall that our GHSGT results in 2011 showed 94% passing science (up 3%), 92% passing language arts (up 2%), 85% passing social studies (up 6%), and 78% passing math (new curriculum). Given our low ACT scores over the past several years, I can only conclude that there is little relationship between good results on the GHSGT and the college?level ACT. Put another way, the GHSGT is ‘minimum competency,' at best, versus the ACT which is ‘college ready.' Big difference."

"Finally, while it is much easier [though not always easy] to impact minimum competency results such as the GHSGT or CRCTs through a higher quality of instruction well aligned to the intended and tested curriculum, it is a much more difficult proposition to produce students who are truly ‘ready' in college English composition, college reading in social science, college algebra, and college biology, the four areas tested by the ACT. The latter is a product of years of quality college?level preparation entailing the cumulative impact of elementary, middle, and high school?level education," said Mathews.