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North ACTs make remarkable leap

Rick Wagner • Aug 22, 2014 at 9:34 AM

KINGSPORT — Sullivan County's Sullivan North High School increased its ACT scores for 2014 by 1.3, markedly better than what ACT officials called a "noteworthy" statewide increase of .3

The state average composite increased from 19.5 to 19.8, but administrators this week said the halls of North are abuzz with students talking about North's score going from 18.0 in 2013 to 19.3 in 2014. That marks the highest score for North in five years.

Sullivan Central's composite jumped from 19.3 to 19.7, while Sullivan East dipped slightly from 19.6 to 19.4,

"We are as a school and staff so proud of our students," North Assistant Principal Jimmy Barker said. "It (ACT test preparation results) finally came through in the results."

Meanwhile, Dobyns-Bennett High School Principal Chris Hampton Wednesday said D-B will work diligently to improve ACT scores for future graduating classes. Sullivan South High's scores were higher than D-B for the second year in a row.

South also scored higher than Johnson City's Science Hill High School, which was 22.1 in 2013 and 2014. Tennessee High in Bristol increased from 20.1 to 20.9.

The 2014 score for Sullivan County's South is 22.7, same as 2013. That was higher than D-B's score of 22.1 for 2014, down from 22.2 in 2013.

At South, 36 percent of test takers met all four college readiness benchmarks defined by the ACT, while at D-B and Science Hill, the percentage was 33. The state average is 19 percent.

"In response to this, we're probably going to do some things differently," Hampton said Wednesday. D-B provides one ACT preparation class a semester but that it is more of a writing class than anything else. "I can't guarantee we'll have the highest scores next year, but we'll put together what we can."

Hampton said the ACT measures more of the entire K-12 education of a student than just high school. He said D-B and the system have encouraged students to perform better at all grade levels

"It's not about Sullivan South and D-B. It's really what do owe the city for what the city does for us," Hampton said.

He said one of the first things D-B will do is determine why the English composite score decreased by .5. Math was up slightly, science the same and reading down .1.

South Principal Greg Harvey Wednesday said the halls of South were abuzz with the ACT performance of South.

"We like to put positive things out there," Harvey said.

He said South piloted an ACT prep program for three years until last year the county school system bought a prep program for all four county high schools.

"Anything you keep score in, people are competitive about it," Harvey said. "It's something to be proud of."

At North, Assistant Principal Jennifer Wilburn credited the turnaround to a change of culture at the school.

"We changed our entire focus here over to academic press and a culture of caring," Wilburn said.

Tennessee's composite ACT score showed its largest gain in more than a decade, and increased more than it has since the state began testing all students in 2010, according to scores released today by ACT. Officials with ACT called the 0.3 gain "noteworthy. "

"Tennessee's average ACT composite score growth of 0.3 is statistically significant and indicative of real academic progress," Jon Erickson, ACT president of education and career solutions, said in a Wednesday Department of Education news release. "A gain of this size is unusual and impressive — particularly for a state that administers the test to all students."

Tennessee's composite ACT score for public school students rose from 19.0 to 19.3. For all students, which includes those who attend private school, the average composite score increased from 19.5 to 19.8.

Tennessee is one of 11 states that require all students to take the ACT. While the composite ACT score showed that all students made progress, the 2014 results point to the continued need to close achievement gaps for certain groups of minority students; the average ACT composite score for Hispanic students was 18.0, and the average for black students was 16.4, according to the state.

D-B has 14 percent minority students, compared to South with 1.4 percent, North at 1.9 percent and Science Hill at 21 percent.

As for economically disadvantaged, D-B reports 38.7 percent of students in that category, compared to 29.2 percent at South and 58.7 percent for North.

North is the county's only Title 1 high school, reflecting higher student eligibility for free and reduced meals. The Kingsport system as a whole has 51 percent free and reduced meal eligible students.

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