Jasper High School is ranked fifth most improved for ACT scores in the state of Alabama.
Data recently released by PARCA (Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama) details the ACT scores of graduating seniors from 2015 to 2018. In 2015, Jasper High students had a 19.9 composite score on the ACT, and as of 2018, that score had climbed to 21.2.
The highest score a student can receive on the ACT is 36.
"In 2017, we were 33rd in the state for a school system for ACT scores. After 2018, we moved up to 13th school district in the state," Jasper High Principal Jonathan Allen said. "We were recognized as one of the top-performing school districts, in terms of our growth, and we're proud to see where we're at."
Jasper High students improved in every subject area on the ACT. Math scores climbed from 19 to 19.4; English from 20.2 to 21.2; and science from 19.9 to 21.1. Reading scores improved the most, jumping from 21 to 22.8.
Alabama's average composite score on the ACT for 2018 was 19.1, which means students at Jasper High are performing at a higher level on the test compared to many students across the state.
Students start taking the ACT their junior year and can retake the test multiple times to earn a higher score. The higher the score, the greater the likelihood of getting scholarships to college.
"I think many often have the misconception that the ACT is an IQ test, that it's measuring your intelligence when in actuality all the ACT is doing is measuring your proficiency in a skill," Allen said. "You can improve your ACT score, simply by learning the skills that are measured by the test."
Allen said the ACT scores at Jasper High observed by PARCA are reflective of students who graduated before his tenure as principal; however, he strongly supports efforts that have been working to increase scores, and he has plans to help students perform at an even greater caliber.
PARCA breaks down ACT scores according to subgroups, which allows schools to see which students may be struggling more than others. Allen said he and Jasper High's faculty are examining that data to better serve all students and help them reach their full potential.
"I think poverty is probably the greatest indicator of student achievement. Typically it goes beyond race or ethnicity. Our community has transitioned, and our poverty numbers have gone up," Allen said. "We know that we have to be mindful of that in how we address our student needs so we can continue to perform at a level that we have come to expect of our students."
Approximately 45 percent of students in Jasper City Schools receive free lunch, according to PARCA data presented in the context of poverty. In addition, Jasper High students who were categorized as economically disadvantaged or poverty-stricken scored 18.6 on the ACT, while the school's overall score was 21.2 — a nearly three-point difference.
To improve the scores of students who may be struggling, Allen said he wants to increase participation in AP (advanced prep) courses and encourage ninth-grade students to begin taking pre-AP courses. He believes the challenge of the curriculum will be of benefit to students when they later take the ACT.
He said encouraging students to participate in dual enrollment at Bevill State will be another priority. Last year, dual enrollment increased at Jasper High by 50 percent.
"We need to build better relationships with our families to help them understand that when a student is on the advanced diploma track — they're taking chemistry, foreign language — we know they're taking a more rigorous pathway, and that leads to better performance on the ACT," he said.
Currently, students can choose an essentials, general or advanced diploma track.
Jasper High Assistant Principal Beth Kennedy said helping students understand the number of opportunities to further their education after high school is going to continue to be of high importance as well. Allen said some students simply think college is out of reach, and they want to change that mindset.
The administrators said getting students motivated will help them work even harder to improve their ACT scores.
"We want to change the culture and let students know what the possibilities are," Kennedy said.
The school system had a major reconfiguration in 2017 that resulted in the closing of West Jasper Elementary School and North Highlands School. Students were then spread out according to grade level across the district.
"That has broken down barriers and excuses," Allen said. "The expectations for all students has now been lifted, and the needs in the classroom have been distributed evenly across our district."
He said it has created an even playing field that students will reap the benefits of for years to come, and the reconfiguration should be reflected in test scores.
In the coming year, Jasper High will continue to implement a Viking Block that will pair each student with an advisor. Allen says advisors will help hold students academically accountable.
Tenth graders will also be encouraged to take a pre-ACT to recognize subjects where they can improve. An ACT boot camp and other ACT prep will continue.
Allen also commended Jasper High's teachers for always challenging the school's roughly 800 students in everyday classroom instruction to excel.
ACT scores for 2019 have not been released yet, but Allen said many 2019 graduates scored 30 or higher on the ACT, so he's expecting the overall average composite score will still be at 21.2 or higher. He also has great faith that the class of 2020 will graduate with high scores as well.
"Class of 2020, we may have almost 100 athletes, and we have almost 200 students marching in our band this year. A high number of our students are involved, and that gives me a lot of hope and encouragement that we're going to continue to see our students putting a focus on their achievement," he said. "School is really about learning, but all these extra things help them be plugged in and successful."
He added, "I'm extremely proud of where we're at, and we only want to do better."