Teaching fundamentals could improve ACT test scores

By Brad Kessie - bio | email

LONG BEACH, MS (WLOX) - The encouraging news that came out of the ACT report released this week was that 93 percent of Mississippi's Class of 2009 took the college entrance exam.

However, their combined scores in English, math, reading and science were the lowest in the country.  So on Thursday, south Mississippi school superintendents got together and heard an approach they could be trying to improve scores, and get students into college.

If you believe the people who administer the ACT test, just one out of 10 Mississippi high school students will get a "C" or better in college.  However, the administrators were encouraged by the growth in the testing pool.  Yet as one ACT executive said, "Now we've got to get better swimmers."

In the back of a U.S. History class at Long Beach High School was Stuart Alexander.  Despite getting a 26 on his last ACT test, he's determined to keep taking the exam until he qualifies for college scholarships.

"A 30 would basically get me anywhere in Mississippi for free, I'm pretty sure," he said.

Alexander is a student in a state that doesn't do very well on the ACT.  The Class of 2009's 18.9 composite score was the lowest in the nation, more than two points lower than the national average.  And Dr. Lanny Acosta thinks he knows why.

"Do not be surprised that the ACT scores in Mississippi have fallen since the state instituted this aggressive state testing program, because there's no time to teach."

The former St. John principal met with the Gulf Coast Education Initiative Consortium -- a collection of superintendents from the six coastal counties.  His presentation emphasized what he teaches to students who take his ACT prep course.

"Concentrate on teaching the fundamentals," Acosta said, urging educators to turn some of their focus away from the other standardized test preparations that often take up eight weeks of a school year.

Long Beach Principal Susan Whiten focuses on fundamentals and funding.  She puts money in her budget so every Long Beach sophomore can take the ACT pre-test.

"I feel like there are many families who can't pay for that testing," she said.  "And I just think it's a wise use of my funds to get the kids to realize what their deficits are, what their strengths are, and to work on those."

Stuart Alexander wants his classmates to realize their strengths are in their classrooms, and in their minds.

"There are so many people in here, people who go to our school, people who go to all the schools in Mississippi who have such a high intellect.  And they can do whatever they hope to do," he said.  "Anybody can do whatever they hope to do if they just set their minds to it."

The ACT is specifically for students trying to get into college.  The state testing Dr. Acosta mentioned takes a broader look at how well schools are teaching their children.  Those results will be released at midnight.  That's when we'll post them on WLOX.com's Education page.

And then, Friday morning on Good Morning Mississippi, Trang Pham Bui will have a complete report on the state testing report card.

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