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Clayton ACT scores drop but participation up

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

While more Clayton County students are taking the ACT college-admission exam each year, Clayton students' scores have remained consistent over the past several years, according data released by the Georgia Department of Education on Wednesday.

Clayton schools' average composite score on the ACT exam this year was a 17.3 out of a possible score of 36, which is down 0.3 points from last year, according to Department of Education data. But, overall, the district's most recent score is level with where it has been since 2005.

During the 2006-2007 school year, Clayton County had an average composite score of 17.2, and the average was 17.3 during the 2005-2006 academic year, according to state data.

The number of Clayton County high school seniors taking the test is going up. Four years ago, 665 seniors took the college-admission test, and that number has gone up every year since then, according to the Georgia Department of Education's web site. During the 2008-2009 school year, 861 seniors took the ACT.

"We've been trying to provide more information to parents about getting their children into college through a series of information sessions we did last year," said Ken Sanders, the coordinator of Clayton County Public Schools' Guidance and Counseling Department. "One of the biggest things is we've been telling more of our parents little things like students should take both the SAT [Scholastic Aptitude Test] and the ACT."

The ACT is one of two nationally recognized college-admission tests, along with the SAT, that are used by admissions officials at colleges and universities around the country to make admission decisions. The ACT is offered by a company that goes by the same name as the test, while the SAT is offered by the College Board organization.

Sanders said it's more common to see the ACT used by colleges and universities throughout the Midwestern states, but the SAT is the more widely used college-admission test across the U.S. "It's always been the more widely known test," he said.

Only 40 percent of Georgia students took the ACT during the 2008-2009 school year, according to data from the Georgia Department of Education. But, as is the case in Clayton County, the test is becoming more popular across the state. Statewide, 36,165 high school seniors took the ACT during the 2008-2009 school year, which is up from 33,238 students a year earlier, according to data from the ACT organization.

The state's average composite score was 20.6, the same as it was during the 2007-2008 school year, according to ACT data.

"More Georgia students take the SAT, but the numbers are getting closer," Georgia Superintendent of Schools Kathy Cox said in a written statement. "We must make sure our students are ready for whatever exam they choose to take. We know that our teachers, students and school communities are working harder than ever to make that happen."

Ed Colby, a spokesman for the ACT organization, said the trend is not isolated to Georgia. The number of students taking the test across the nation increased from the 2007-2008 school year by 58,528 pupils. There were 1.48 million students taking the test during the 2008-2009 school year. Meanwhile, the national composite score is 21.1, the same as it was during the 2007-2008 school year.

The boosts in the number of students taking the test comes on the heels of a national campaign to raise awareness of the test, Colby said. Efforts included representatives of the ACT organization visiting schools to talk with students and guidance counselors about the test.

"We certainly worked hard to build our name recognition, especially in states where the test hasn't been taken by as many students," Colby said.

Sanders said students should take both the ACT, and the SAT, because they are different types of tests even though they are used for the same reason.

"Students get to see which test is going to be better for them to take," he said. "They are both designed to do the same thing, which is to measure how much you know, but the ACT is more comprehensive, whereas the SAT is more analytical." Sanders said Wednesday he did not immediately have data on how many Clayton County students are taking the ACT, versus the SAT, or are taking both tests.

Clayton County Public Schools offers students what is billed as an SAT preparation course, but Sanders said the name can be a bit misleading. "It's really a prep course for the college-admissions tests," he said. He also said the key to improving Clayton County's ACT - and SAT - scores is to focus on improving everyday student achievement in the classroom.

"You just have to focus on student achievement, and it will show in the test scores," Sanders said.

The school system's Guidance and Counseling Department is preparing to start the 2009-2010 parent information sessions with a program on graduation-goal setting on Tuesday, Sept. 8 at 6:30 p.m., at the Clayton County Performing Arts Center, located at 2530 Mt. Zion Pkwy., in Jonesboro.

Two college planning sessions, which will include a discussion on college-entrance exams such as the ACT and the SAT, will be offered on Oct. 14 at 8:30 a.m., and 6:30 p.m., also at the Performing Arts Center, according to a schedule for the information sessions.

For more details on the sessions, call (404) 362-3780.