It came up in part because Stand For Children's presentation included the depressing news that while Memphis City Schools only had 5 percent of students meet that "college ready" standard on the ACT, Shelby County Schools only had 20 percent of students at that level. The presentation by SCS included a breakdown of ACT scores, with the emphasis not on the 20 percent who exceeded benchmarks in all areas but on the 62 percent who received composite scores of 19 or above.
Commissioner John Smarrelli, the Christian Brothers University president, engaged Aitken in the same conversation he had with MCS Supt. Kriner Cash the week before about the number of students ready to enroll and prosper at local universities. Aitken and Smarrelli seemed to agree that the composite score of 19 was a more fair indicator of college readiness, because that is the minimum number most local schools require and what the state requires for students to qualify for lottery scholarship money.
Smarrelli pointed out that 62 percent of SCS juniors comes out to 2,000 to 2,500 students. Interestingly, when MCS's Irving Hamer gave a brief presentation at the commission's initial meeting, he pointed out that though MCS's average ACT score was 16.5, a record number of MCS students scored 19 or above -- 2,000 in all, Hamer said. "That is incredibly interesting and optimistic," Hamer said.
MCS would also point out that though its system has approximately 105,000 students to SCS's 47,000, SCS actually has a much larger pool of students who are not considered economically disadvantaged (i.e., who do not qualify for free and reduced price lunches) -- about 29,600 compared to only 15,750 in MCS.
Both districts take pains to point out that all their students are required to take the ACT, while other states may allow non-college ready students to skip the test, thus skewing the average. Speaking of ACT scores, this chart gives a really cool look at the relationships between student growth, ACT scores and socio-economics at Tennessee high schools for the period spanning 2007-2009.