College-Bound Payson Students Excel On Crucial Act Test

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College-bound Payson High School seniors last year scored well above the state and national averages on the ACT tests in math, science and English many colleges use to figure out which students to admit.

The roughly 60 students who took the ACT test last spring scored 20 percent above the

state average and about 10 percent above the national average, according to scores released last week.

“I know last year’s class was the largest scholarship year we’ve had, so these scores make sense. They were a motivated group,” said Payson Unified School District Superintendent Casey O’Brien of the standout scores.

We have a good trend going, and we want to keep it going,” O’Brien concluded.

Just under a third of the graduating class took the ACT, the most commonly used standardized test used by colleges nationwide.

The strong performance of the high school’s college-bound students contrasts with the below-average overall AIMS scores, based on tests of basic skills taken by all students.

Payson’s graduates beat the state and national averages in every subject area.

For instance, in math Payson students scored 25 percent above the state average and 19 percent above the national average.

Likewise in science Payson students scored 25 percent above the state average and 16 percent above the national average.

In English, Payson students scored 32 percent above the state average and 19 percent above the national average.

More than two-thirds of the Payson students scored above the national benchmarks in all subjects. Studies suggest that 75 percent of students who score in that range successfully complete college.

Payson students have generally beat the state average on the ACT each year in most subjects for the past five years. However, the 2011 scores represented the strongest performance in that whole period. Payson has consistently scored above the state average in English, math and science for each of the past four years.

However, Payson did much better compared to the state average this year than in previous years. Payson students scored 18 percent below the four-year average prior to this year, before this year’s standout performance.

“Determining and creating six-year course plans and taking the right courses in sequence increases the chances students will be prepared with the skills necessary to take advanced-level courses. With these supports in place, Payson High School looks forward to continued improvement and growth annually,” said Payson High School Principal Kathe Ketchem.

O’Brien said he took special pleasure in the improvement in the English scores. “We’ve been putting an emphasis on language, so that component is very encouraging,” he said.

The strong performance on the ACT scores adds to the encouragement in last year’s sharp rise in the graduation rate to about 83 percent. The high school moved from slightly below the state average to just above the state average on that crucial measurement.

However, the high school continues to lag when it comes to the AIMS test of basic skills, which all students must pass to graduate.

The high school has also increased the number of Advanced Placement courses offered, which may have helped boost ACT scores in several areas. Students who did take AP courses at the high school struggled to score fours and fives on the national tests of knowledge they must pass in order to get college credit for the Advanced Placement tests. In some of the tough, science classes, none of the AP students last year scored high enough to guarantee college credit.

However, he said the clear cut scores on the ACT test provided much clearer measurements of student knowledge than some of the much more complicated scores developed as part of the state’s effort to assign every school a letter grade to gauge student learning.

“What I like about the ACT data is that there’s nothing ambiguous about it. We’ve been dealing with the state on three different school labels and I still don’t know what the final outcome is. The data is so complex and they have all these formulas to assign point values. But with the ACT, it’s pretty black and white: There’s a score — and here it is.”

He said the ACT scores provide some reassurance that the district has made progress on the key goal of preparing students for some sort of additional schooling.

“College and career readiness is the reality. High school has become the new middle school in terms of what it does for your earning potential compared to 30 years ago,” said O’Brien.

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