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Education: Scores fall as all students tested for college prep

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

The average score on a test of college readiness dropped 2 points at Waccamaw High School this year, the first year the state required all seniors to take the exam.

Results of the ACT were released this week. In 2014, the legislature required that all juniors take the exam, which covers English, math, reading and science. Only 14 percent of the state’s students met the ACT benchmark for college readiness in all four subjects. The state’s average composite score was 18.5. The national average is 20.8.

At Waccamaw, the average composite score was 20.1. That was based on 223 students taking the ACT, up from 136 in 2015. Of those, 22 percent met the ACT benchmarks in all four subjects.

“I was impressed that we held it that high,” principal David Hammel said. “Some are college-bound. Many are not.”

The benchmark scores on the ACT are based on the level of knowledge needed to have at least a 50 percent chance of getting a B in a college class. Nearly 60 percent of Waccamaw seniors met the ACT benchmark in English; 40 percent met it in social studies; 35 percent in math and science.

Standardized test scores typically decline when the number of test takers goes up. “I wasn’t sure how low it would go,” Hammel said. “As our population has grown, the percentage of college-bound has decreased.”

A survey of the freshman class at Waccamaw High found 75 percent plan to attend college. It used to be over 80 percent.

In the state, 83 percent of students who took the ACT said they planned to pursue their education after high school. “While it’s nice to see that the majority of students want to pursue their dreams of going to college, the fact is that they are not prepared for what awaits them,” said Neil Robinson, who chairs the state’s Education Oversight Committee.

This year’s ACT scores set a benchmark for South Carolina, said state Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman. The state is designing a new accountability system that will involve several measures of achievement, she added.

Robinson said the scores highlight a “broken system.”

In Georgetown County, the number of students taking the ACT more than doubled to 670 this year. The average composite score fell from 20.1 to 17.6. It was 16.2 at Andrews and Carvers Bay; 16.5 at Georgetown.

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