The recently released 2016 ACT composite scores for high schools around the state can tell a lot about a district.
The Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama (PARCA) last week released the average composite score by school for the graduating class of 2016.
While the state average was 20.6, and national composite was 20.8, Muscle Shoals High School was the only area high school scoring higher at 21.
Brooks, Wilson and Florence high schools all had an average score of 19. The lowest score reported in the three-county area (Colbert, Franklin and Lauderdale counties) was Tharptown at 14.
Muscle Shoals High School Principal Chad Holden said that while he feels good about where his school is on the list (seventh place), "It's not good enough."
"We always want to do better because we're very focused on school improvement," he said. "This gives us a base."
He said colleges view ACT scores in an individualized manner, but added that he is cognizant of the fact that schools have reputations. Muscle Shoals is known for providing a rigorous, high-quality education.
"While I think we're doing the right things, ideally, we'd like to be number one on that list," he said. "Any school that's data driven wants to be number one. As long as we're making improvements and the number is going up, we're OK. I just don't want to see that number decline."
The number one school on the state list is Loveless Academic Magnet Program in Montgomery County with an average ACT score of 31. Mountain Brook High School follows with a 27.
University of North Alabama Director of Student Financial Services Shauna James said the ACT averages for the class of 2016 in and around the Shoals area are typical, and don't have a bearing on scholarship offerings.
The data, she said, is more important for the individual high schools in terms of providing needed information for instructional purposes.
"Standardized testing doesn't tell the whole story," James said. "Different students have various levels of preparedness for college. We look at GPA as well as the ACT score, and generally have more students in the 22 to 27 range than those scoring 30 and above."
Larger colleges and universities tend to pull more students scoring in the 30 to 36 range.
"Many students with the higher ACT sores look at the larger universities beginning as a freshman in high school," James said. "So much is based on the ACT now, and it is still very prominent in determining scholarships, but we try to take into account that not every student is a good test taker."
Sheffield High School Guidance Counselor Melissa Ryan said she isn't pleased with her school's average score of 17, but added that great effort goes into preparing students for the various subject areas tested on the ACT.
As incentive for performing well, Ryan said students making a 30 or better on the test are recognized as members of the school's 30-Plus Club. She said about 10 students have scored in that range. She is hoping to see even more do so this school year.
"We want our (ACT) numbers to be higher, but we have to keep helping students raise scores, and celebrating those who are scoring really high," she said.
She said she agrees poverty affects academic performance and that theory often plays out in standardized test scores in high poverty districts.
The PARCA report also showed that statewide 15 percent of students met all the ACT benchmarks.
Locally, Florence High School had the highest percentage of students meeting all benchmarks at 22, followed by Muscle Shoals with 21 percent, Wilson High School at 17 percent, Waterloo and Lexington high schools at 16 percent, and Sheffield and Lauderdale County high schools at 15 percent, which matches the state average.
Statewide, the highest scores reported were in English, with 50 percent of students reaching the benchmark. The lowest scores were in math and science with 22 percent scoring at benchmark in each.