Fayette County

ACT scores weak in math, science

Most Kentucky high school juniors struggle with math and science and aren’t prepared for college-level courses in those subjects, according to ACT college entrance results released Thursday.

Of the nearly 43,000 public high school juniors who took the test last spring, only 20 percent met math goals and 15 percent met science goals.

Overall, students scored an average ACT composite of 18.3 out of a possible 36. This was the first time juniors were required to take the test under state law.

Bob Sexton of the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence said the scores reinforce what educators already know: Kentucky students need help with math and science. Sexton said the major reason for getting all juniors to take the ACT is because “it encourages kids who might not have been thinking about college, to think about college.”

Meanwhile, Education Commissioner Jon Draud contends the ACT scores don’t necessarily indicate Kentucky students performed poorly.

“When you have everyone in the population taking the test, you’re just not going to have a high percentage that are going to be college-ready,” said Draud. “You can expect the benchmark scores to be lower when you include all of the population in the test-taking population.”

A 2006 state law mandated the test to help determine how ready students are for college or the work force.

“I’m just glad that it’s under­ way and that we’re getting this analysis,” said Senate Majority Leader Dan Kelly, R-Springfield, who sponsored the law. “This new information will be very helpful in determining just how we’re doing in preparing our children.”

The ACT results, along with similar tests for younger students, will count as 5 percent of high schools’ total score under the Commonwealth Accountability Testing System. Those results will be released Wednesday.

Because this is the first set of ACT results, there are no prior-year comparisons to be made. However, ACT developed benchmarks that indicate whether a student is likely to earn a C or higher in first-year college courses.

This year, 46 percent of Kentucky juniors met English benchmarks, 20 percent met math benchmarks, 33 percent met reading standards and only 15 percent met science goals.

Fayette County had the eighth-highest composite score in the state with a score of 20.2. Fayette’s Paul Laurence Dunbar High school earned a 21.5, tying with Jefferson County’s Male High School as the fifth-best score in the state. Bryan Station High had a composite score of 17.1 — ranking 167th out of 232 high schools.

Superintendent Stu Silberman said he is pleased that most of the county’s high schools performed well but is concerned about Bryan Station High. District and school officials have put together a plan to address achievement problems there, he said.

“They have been working with other successful schools in our district, across all levels, including elementary schools,” he said. “And they’re taking parts of what’s going on in those other schools and putting them at work in Bryan Station High School.”

The average scores in Kentucky varied among races and slightly between genders.

Students categorized as American Indian/Alaska native received the lowest average composite score at 15.2, followed by black students with a score of 15.6.

Students in the Asian-American/Pacific islander race group received the highest composite score: 20.1.

In Fayette County, African-American students had an average composite score of 16.1 and Hispanic students had an average composite score of 16.6.

The ACT results “show us that we are providing the opportunities for an outstanding education for our kids,” Silberman said. “What the challenge is, for us, is to get all of our kids moving in that direction.”

Fayette High School Director Mike McKenzie said the district examined No Child Left Behind testing data, which were released early last month, and found systemic issues affecting all high school students. For example, they realized many juniors were not taking Algebra 2 classes and hadn’t been introduced to those math concepts.

Lisa Gross, spokeswoman for the Kentucky Department of Education, said the state will look at individual schools and districts to see whether there are patterns of weakness exposed by these and other test scores.

“They will be very general kinds of correlations,” she said. “This particular data piece won’t really tell you much right now because it’s the first year and it’s a group of kids that hasn’t been tested at this level before.”

Related stories from Lexington Herald Leader