Another test report shows flat results

Graduating seniors in Colorado and the nation performed about the same on ACT tests in 2013 as their predecessors did in recent years, according to the study released Wednesday.

ACT results chart
Click to see larger image.

The national study came out a week after Colorado reported its 2013 TCAP scores and growth data, which also were largely flat (see story).

The annual report from the testing service found 39 percent of 2013 graduates meet three or more of the four ACT readiness benchmarks, and 31 percent met no benchmarks. The benchmarks indicate students’ chances of success in first-year college courses.

In Colorado only 25 percent of test takers met the benchmarks in all four subjects, compared to 26 percent nationwide.

Colorado’s 2013 average composite score was 20.4, compared to a national average of 20.9. Some 56,027 Colorado graduates took the test.

National and state benchmark performance and composite scores have been in pretty much the same range every year since 2009.

College and career readiness problems persist ,“with the majority [of students] ill-prepared for success at the next level,” according to ACT’s The Condition of College & Career Readiness 2013.

The report also found significant gaps between white students and others, both in Colorado and the nation. No more than 48 percent of African American, Hispanic and American Indian students met any of the benchmarks nationally.

The ACT calculates that students who meet the minimum benchmark scores in English, math, reading and science have a 75 percent chance of earning a C or higher in a typical first-year college credit course.

Here are percentages of Colorado test takers who met benchmarks in individual subjects, with the national percentage in parenthesis:

  • English: 62 percent (64 percent)
  • Reading: 42 (44)
  • Math: 39 (44)
  • Science: 36 (36)

The ACT report also provides details about the effects on scores of taking core academic courses and a rigorous curriculum in middle school, and about the relationship between student goals and overall student engagement and test performance.

ACT testColorado is in the middle of a years-long effort to improve student readiness for college, using steps mandated by a 2008 law. Those measures include new academic content standards, in effect this year for all school districts; new high school graduation guidelines (see story), and creation of a new diploma that signifies college readiness (see story).

The Department of Higher Education also is revising college admissions requirements and remediation policies (see story).

Nationwide, some 54 percent of 2013’s 1.8 million high school graduates took the ACT tests. In 29 states 50 percent or more of grads took the tests, and 12 states had participation of 90 percent or higher. Colorado requires all high schools juniors to take the test, regardless of whether they plan to attend college. About 57 percent of state high school graduates went on to college in 2011, the most recent data available.

For 2013 ACT benchmarks were adjusted up one point in reading and down one point in science on the 36-point scale. The 2013 report also includes scores from students who received accommodations in taking the tests, which wasn’t the case in the past.

Annual national and state results for the other major college entrance exam, the SAT, usually are released in September. The 2012 report found that about 43 percent of high school graduates were ready for college. In the past Colorado students have scored higher than the national mean on the SAT tests. But only about 17 percent of Colorado students took the test in 2012, and only 14 percent of students who graduated from public high schools.

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.

For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.

Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede