Bulloch County Schools administrators this week hailed a five-year upward trend in local high school graduates’ scores on the ACT and SAT college admissions tests in all tested subjects.
However, the scores of Bulloch County’s 2016 graduates, while higher than those of 2015’s graduates, remained below the state and national averages on all three SAT test components. Meanwhile, Bulloch graduates’ average scores on the ACT significantly exceeded the national benchmark score in English and came within a fraction of a point of tying the benchmark score in reading, but remained below the ACT national benchmarks in math and science.
Critical reading was also Bulloch graduates’ best subject on the SAT, where the county average score was one point below Georgia’s average and two points below the national average.
“We are making steady progress,” Superintendent of Schools Charles Wilson said in an Oct. 18 release. “We still have room to improve; however, these results point to the success of the work being done. Our administrators and I see the positive effect of the performance culture we are building.”
Scores in the latest reports are those of students who took the tests and graduated in 2016 and do not include the scores of younger students who took the tests during the year. Complete ACT and SAT College Board reports for the school system and each of its three high schools – Portal Middle High, Southeast Bulloch High and Statesboro High – are available at www.bullochschools.org/testing.
System ACT scores
On the ACT English exam, Bulloch County’s 2016 average score was 19.5, up from 18.7 in 2016 and 17.6 back in 2012. However, the most recent score remained below the state average of 20.7. Georgia’s scores have also been increasing, but more slowly than the county’s, from a statewide ACT English score of 20.1 in 2012.
Both the Bulloch County and the Georgia average scores exceeded the national benchmark of 18.0 in ACT English this year. But the benchmark is not an average national score. Instead, it is a performance level meant to indicate a 50 percent chance of making at least a “B” in a college course in the subject, and a 75 percent chance of making at least a “C.”
Bulloch County’s 2016 average ACT reading score was 20.9, up from 20.2 last year and 18.6 for the 2012 graduating class. The 2016 Georgia average in ACT reading as 21.8, and the national benchmark is 22.
Bulloch County’s 2016 average ACT math score was 19.5, up from 19.2 last year and 18.6 with the 2012 class. This year’s Georgia average was 20.6, and the national benchmark for math is, again, 22.
The Bulloch County 2016 average ACT science score was 20.2, up from 19.6 last year and 18.4 in 2012. This year’s Georgia average was 21, and the national benchmark in science is 23.
Combining the results in those subjects, Bulloch’s 2016 composite ACT score was 20.1, while the state’s composite score was 21.1, and both have risen over the past five years.
Bulloch SAT scores
On the SAT, Bulloch County’s average critical reading score for the 2016 graduating class was 492, up from 467 last year and 472 in 2012. Georgia’s statewide average this year was 493, one point lower than the 494 national average.
The average SAT math score of Bulloch’s 2016 high school graduates was 480, up from 464 for the previous year’s graduates, and higher than average local score of 477 score in 2012. However, the SAT math score was 481 for the Class of 2014. The press release provided by Hayley Greene, public relations specialist for the Bulloch County Schools, also noted that “graduates’ scores can typically fluctuate up or down from year to year,” while reporting the generally upward five-year trend.
In math, Bulloch’s 2016 SAT score would still have 10 points to go to catch the 490 state average, and was 28 points below the national average of 508.
The SAT does not have a science component.
On the SAT writing test, Bulloch’s score among 2016’s graduates, 464, was nine points higher than among their counterpart’s four years earlier, and 20 points higher than with the 2015 class. But the Georgia average for 2016 was 476, and the national average was 482.
Working to improve
The “performance culture” Wilson spoke of involves a strategic shift the Bulloch County Board of Education, its administrators and teacher leaders began almost five years ago, according to the district’s news release. This shift has culminated in a move to become a Strategic Waivers School System, getting exemptions from some state regulations in return for setting and meeting objectives for school improvement.
“Our focus is continuous improvement,” Wilson said. “Our principals and teachers are using key strategies for student learning and collaborative, empowered, and innovative teaching practices. We believe this will result in growth for all students.”
Since 2012, the district has worked with the Georgia Leadership Institute for School Improvement to train teachers and principals in analyzing and using data to lead instruction and change in their schools, the press release stated. Teachers are working together in teams, called professional learning communities, or PLCs. They meet to monitor students’ progress and also create common classroom assessments that can be used to adjust instruction, instead of waiting for annual standardized test results.
“This strategy will lead to improved outcomes and opportunities for our students,” Wilson said. “It is a lot of work, it is hard work, and it will require adjustments, but it is the right work.”
Statesboro High School’s Class graduates showed increases in all four ACT-tested areas for a third year in a row, narrowing the gap between their performance and their state peers by one point or less in math, reading and science and 1.1 points in English.
“The steady growth trend on both the SAT and the ACT is certainly encouraging,” said SHS Principal Dr. Ken LeCain. “I believe these slow steady increases can be traced directly back to our teachers’ closer scrutiny of academic standards and their endeavor to make our students think more critically.”
Southeast Bulloch High School’s scores increased in three out of the four ACT-tested areas, with math showing a slight decrease of 0.3 points. More than 70 percent of the school’s graduates demonstrated readiness for English composition by meeting the benchmark.
“We are really pleased with the success of our students, especially in English,” said Donna Clifton, principal of Southeast Bulloch High School. “We devote so much thought and energy to close reading and to extended writing, and our students' success is a reflection of the hard work being done by students and teachers.”
Because of Portal Middle High’s smaller size, its strategy has been to use its support staff, instructional coordinators and counselors to address individual student academic needs identified by faculty, said Principal Patrick Hill.
“We also utilize creative scheduling for prescribed remediation and enrichment for our high school students," he said.
Portal’s Class of 2016 achieved the district's highest ACT math score of 20.3, two points higher than their school’s 2015 score, and 0.3 points lower than the state. PMHS students increased their reading score by 2.9 points to 18.9, the highest increase across the district.