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Duluth students exceed state and national ACT score averages

High school students who graduated from Duluth public schools and Marshall School in the spring posted better scores on the ACT test than their peers across the state and nation.

High school students who graduated from Duluth public schools and Marshall School in the spring posted better scores on the ACT test than their peers across the state and nation.

Out of 36 possible points, Duluth district students scored an average composite score of 23 points, compared with 22.5 in Minnesota and 21.2 in the nation.

Marshall soared ahead of those averages, including Duluth's, posting 26.2 for an average composite score on the test.

The Duluth district and Marshall saw improvement over last year's scores, but showed slight dips in student participation. About 91 percent of the 2007 graduates took the ACT at Marshall School, compared with 92 percent the year before. Duluth's participation rate dropped from 67 percent to 64 percent.

Harbor City International School had an average score of 21.4, down almost three points from the 24.3 score students at the school earned the year before.

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The ACT measures English, math, reading and science skills taught in high school that are deemed necessary for college students.

"We are very pleased with the data," said Joe Hill, assistant superintendent for the Duluth school district. "We are above state averages in most areas."

Duluth lagged behind the state only in math, posting a 22.4 compared with the state average of 22.5. Marshall students earned an average score of 26.3 in math.

Katie Voller-Berdan, a guidance counselor at Marshall, attributed much of the school's scores to an exceptional group of students.

"We just had an incredible group of testers," she said. "We had a handful that got 35s, some scored 34s, 33s, 32s; you get the point. We just had a ton of scores in the 30 category."

Despite faring better than statewide and national averages on the ACT, students in Duluth, as well as those across the country, showed signs of struggle in terms of college preparedness.

The ACT uses benchmark scores to determine how many students probably would succeed in college-level courses. For example, meeting or exceeding the benchmark on the English portion of the ACT indicates a student probably will succeed in a college-level English Composition course, ACT spokesman Ed Colby said.

"Students who don't meet the benchmarks lack at least some of the skills and sometimes many of the skills to tackle that college algebra course or that college biology course," Colby said.

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Based on ACT scores,

33 percent of students in the Duluth school district were considered ready for college courses in algebra, biology, English composition and social science, compared to 51 percent of Marshall students. Both schools once again beat state and national averages. About 31 percent of students in Minnesota were considered ready for college courses and 23 percent nationally.

Just 18 percent of students were considered ready for all four courses at Harbor City.

"We are not as strong as we have been in the past," said Chris Hazleton, director of the school. "This kind of stuff tends to ebb and flow with the tide of students."

The good news is that scores have increased nationally over the years, Colby said. In the past four years, national averages have increased three points from 20 to 23.

"We are seeing lots of encouraging signs of growth as a nation," he said. "Changes in academic achievement don't happen overnight; they take time."

To continue improvement, Colby recommends students register for core classes at their high schools and also recommends schools examine the rigor of the courses offered to ensure students are actually learning the skills necessary to be successful at post-secondary institutions.

"It's about taking challenging courses and studying hard," Colby said.

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Lake Superior High School could not be reached for comment.

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