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Exam scores prompt concern

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When the most recent class of local graduates took the ACT exam, around half earned reading scores showing they were ready for college classes.

The scores for the others were low enough that school officials are concerned those students could have problems keeping up with their peers when they get to college.

That worries at least one local principal, who said college-bound students will need strong reading skills to succeed in postsecondary classes.

The ACT is one of two tests students commonly take as part of their college application, and colleges use students’ scores to determine whether they’ll be accepted and whether they’ll receive scholarship money. The exam tests students in four areas: English, math, reading and science.

Local high schools also look at the average scores of students taking the test. They compare the scores to past years to see how well they’re preparing students for college. The ACT company provides benchmarks for each section of the test and indicates if students’ test scores meet or exceed those and whether the students are considered prepared for college-level work.

The average scores from students at Center Grove, Franklin and Nineveh-Hensley-Jackson schools all met or exceeded the recommended scores on each section of the test. Students’ average scores from those three school districts along with Greenwood schools also met or exceeded the state’s average scores, according to ACT college-readiness reports from each area high school.

According to the report, between 46 percent and 61 percent of this year’s local graduates who took the ACT earned a score that showed they’re ready for college-level reading assignments or social science courses.

Whiteland Community High School had the lowest percentage of students surpassing the reading benchmark, while Indian Creek High School had the highest. Half of the students at Edinburgh Community High School showed they were prepared for college-level reading courses, while Franklin and Greenwood each had 54 percent of graduates surpass the reading benchmark, according to the reports. Rates for Center Grove High School were not available.

“That is such an important skill across the board,” Franklin Principal Doug Harter said. “If our students are at 54 percent college readiness, that’s not acceptable.”

Harter is concerned that the rate of Franklin students passing the reading benchmark on the ACT has dropped. In 2010, 62 percent of Franklin students who took the test met or exceeded the reading benchmark for college readiness, and that rate increased to 67 percent in 2012, according to the report.

Then in 2013, the rate fell to 54 percent, where it remained this year.

Franklin’s average reading score this year exceeded both the ACT benchmark and the state average, but that could have been because several individual students earned reading scores high enough to increase the school’s overall score. That doesn’t make up for the fact that just under half of the high school’s college-bound graduates showed that they weren’t prepared for college-level reading questions, Harter said.

He said he will spend the rest of the school year reviewing what changes can be made to improve students’ reading abilities.

Teachers in all subjects, including math and science, recently started making reading a regular part of their assignments, and Harter wants that to continue. In math, for example, students will have to answer more word problems. In order to solve those problems, they’ll need to fully understand the question, Harter said.

Franklin also is reviewing its honors and college-level courses to see how to better prepare students for college-level work.

Last school year, professors from Ball State University interviewed students and teachers in higher-level courses and sat in on college-level classes. Harter cited one note from the professors: The high school can do a better job of providing more rigorous and challenging assignments and opportunities for high-ability students who are capable of completing them.

“That might relate to this, because ACT (tests) your college-bound kids. Maybe we’re not pushing our top kids enough so that they’re scoring at a higher rate,” Harter said.

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