- Associated Press - Sunday, December 6, 2015

HARTSELLE, Ala. (AP) - Hartselle High School created what just about every secondary student knows as the “ACT culture.” And it’s paying dividends.

The school district has 104 students who scored at least 25 on the ACT exam, which means they are qualified for admission to any four-year college or university in the state.

“That’s about one-fourth of our junior and senior students,” Principal Jeff Hyche said.

The average ACT score for Alabama students statewide is 19.1, while the national average is 21. Hartselle’s average score is 23.5. Students are tested in English, math, science and reading. A perfect score is 36.

Some Hartselle students already accepted full academic scholarships, but others, who have some of the best ACT scores in the state, are not happy.

“I’m not where I want to be because my goal is at least a 35,” said Gabbie Stout, a junior whose composite score is 33. She scored 36 on the reading and English parts, 30 in math and 33 in science.

Stout, who will take the ACT again in April, plans to attend Dartmouth and study science, with a goal of entering medical school to become a pediatrician. She said her problem is she is a perfectionist and the ACT has time limits.

“I want to do everything perfect,” Stout said.

She’s not alone in her quest for perfection. Five other students scored 33 or higher on the test. Seth Ballew, Weston Baker and Cody Tapscott scored 34 each, while Abigail Davis and Michael Milner each posted a 33.

All of the students credit their ACT success to a culture that’s been at Hartselle High for three or four years. When the state standards changed, the school eliminated what Hyche called matching exams. He said teachers do not give tests with true or false answers.

“Tests are all about writing and complex multiple choices,” Hyche said. “We also put time limits on tests, which is what students will encounter on the ACT.”

Ballew, who has an academic scholarship to Alabama and plans to study medicine, said there’s no doubt the school’s “testing culture” is what helped him score 34 on the ACT.

“We learn ACT testing skills,” he said. “The tests are very difficult, and we have a short amount of time to complete them. It’s about being prepared.”

Milner, who scored 33 and plans to study engineering at Alabama, said students have 35 minutes to read and answer 40 questions on the ACT.

“I was familiar with the process and knew what to expect when I took the ACT because this is how our teachers give tests,” he said.

The state will administer the ACT to every junior in the spring. Hartselle starts a little earlier by giving sophomores the opportunity to take what Hyche called a practice ACT.

Tapscott, a junior, took advantage of the opportunity. He made a 34 on the test administered by the ACT Board, but scored 35 on the practice test at Hartselle High. Tapscott, who wants to study a medical field centered on engineering, said he missed three questions.

“By taking the practice test, I was able to identify my weaknesses and work on them,” he said.

Davis, who will study business at Troy University or the University of Alabama Birmingham next year, took the test five times, making 33 the last two times. She never made below 29.

Superintendent Vic Wilson said there are a number of reasons Hartselle emphasizes ACT scores. He said students who score at least a 25 do not have to take remedial courses at four-year colleges. But most importantly, when students get scores in the 30 to 34 range, there’s the possibility of scholarship money to attend college, Wilson said.

Hyche said every student, regardless of ACT score, is required to participate in the ACT culture. Students - beginning in the 10th grade - have to set an ACT goal. When they reach the goal, regardless of what it is, their name is placed on the ACT honor board near the front lobby of the school.

“We want to celebrate all of our students, and we talk about the ACT all the time,” Hyche said. “Generally when you talk to our students, most are not satisfied, no matter what their score is. This is good because we want them to keep challenging themselves and each other.”

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Information from: The Decatur Daily, http://www.decaturdaily.com/decaturdaily/index.shtml

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