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More students taking ACT

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A growing number of local high school students are taking a college entrance exam that includes questions about science, and the results show that local students need more help in that subject.

About 36 percent of Johnson County’s 1,734 graduates took the ACT exam in 2013, which was up from about 34 percent of 2012 graduates. The percentage of graduates tested went up at Center Grove, Greenwood and Whiteland high schools. At Center Grove, 56 percent of the 2013 graduates took the exam, which was the highest rate ever, guidance director Pam Price said.

Typically area graduates have preferred the SAT exam, which focuses heavily on math, reading and critical thinking questions, while the ACT tests students in English, math, reading and science. About 66 percent of 2012 graduates took the SAT, but recently guidance counselors have been recommending students take both exams.

Students might do better on one exam than the other, and that could help them get into college or qualify for more scholarship money, Parker and Greenwood guidance director Bill Ronk said.

Students who meet or exceed benchmark scores on the ACT typically have a 50 percent chance of earning a B in related courses in college and a 75 percent chance of earning a C. The average scores of Indiana’s 2013 graduates met or exceeded the recommended scores in English, math and reading but didn’t meet the science benchmark.

Locally Center Grove and Greenwood students met or exceeded both the ACT benchmarks and the state’s averages in all subjects, according to data from ACT.

The averages for Whiteland, Indian Creek and Edinburgh students all fell short of Indiana’s average ACT score in math, and those three schools along with Franklin also were short of ACT’s science benchmark, according to the ACT data.

Greenwood’s students failed to meet the science benchmark in 2012, and since then the high school has been working to provide more challenging, rigorous courses to students. Next school year, Greenwood will drop a life and physical science course, one of the lowest-level high school science courses available, and instead require all freshmen to take Biology I, which is more challenging, Ronk said.

Such courses should better prepare students for science, math and engineering careers, Ronk said.

“There is increasing emphasis on upping the expectations in science, and that kind of follows English and math, which has been where the major focus has been. You’re always adding,” Ronk said.

At Center Grove, which also met or exceeded ACT’s benchmarks in 2012, students are encouraged to take as many high-level, Advanced Placement and biomedical courses as possible. Those courses can prepare students for the ACT, as well as for potential careers, Price said.

Center Grove also starts preparing students for both the ACT and SAT as early as the freshman year.

Students take at least one ACT practice test as freshmen and another as sophomores and take the first of two SAT practice exams as sophomores. Guidance counselors then review the practice test results with students so they can start thinking early about which test will help them the most when they apply to colleges, Price said.

“Our kids are pretty prepared when they get ready to take a college entrance test for real,” Price said.

Greenwood also is considering requiring students to take a practice ACT exam, but first school officials would need to find time in students’ schedules for them to prepare for and take the test, Ronk said.

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