SIKESTON -- While Missouri's average ACT score rose again in 2005, local schools' average scores fell slightly.
But whether up or down, school districts are using the scores to their advantage.
"It helps us identify those areas we need to target -- to either bolster our curriculum or address what would be an apparent weakness," said John Berry, Sikeston Senior High School senior counselor.
Data released Wednesday by ACT showed Missouri's 2005 high school graduates who took the ACT scored 21.6 on average, out of 36 points, up from 21.5 a year earlier and 21.4 the previous year. Missouri again exceeded the national average score, which held steady at 20.9.
Sikeston R-6 School District's 2005 average score was 21.0 -- down from last year's 22.0, but higher than in previous years. In 2003, Sikeston's average score was 20.4 compared to 20.8 in 2002 and 21.0 in 2001.
Other schools are seeing similar trends.
For example, Kelly High School's 2005 average score was 18.7.
"We fluctuate every year," said Kelly High School counselor Rhonda Ratledge. "Three years ago our composite was 20.8 and last year it was 19. Hopefully we'll be back on the rise."
Last school year 18 students at Scott County Central took the ACT, and the composite score was 18.6.
"But we did make some improvements in all the areas -- reading, math, English and science," said Jerry Brehmer, Scott County Central High School counselor.
New Madrid County Central High School's composite ACT score stayed the same as last year -- 18.3 -- but the district saw improved scores in English and math from the 52 students who took the test. Reading and science scores were within the same range as last year.
Charleston R-1's scores dropped from 20.1 in 2004 to 18.9 in 2005. At East Prairie R-2 the composite was 19.0 -- down 1.4 points from last year. Changes in scores from year to year are sometimes due to the nature of the students, Berry said.
"One of things that can be kind of be misleading (with the school averages) is for those students who have taken multiple testings, they take the most recent score, not necessarily the best score," Berry pointed out.
Just as individual students are different, classes are different, too, Berry said. "You find some classes that may test real well and others who may do well in class, but maybe not test as well," Berry said.
East Prairie R-2 superintendent Scott Downing said he thinks a reason for the drop in scores is that more students are taking the test.
"But we're still going to try to stress ACT preparation more," Downing said.
ACT Inc. also has developed benchmarks, scores students should meet to indicate if they're ready for the first year of college. ACT said many college-
bound students in Missouri and across the nation lack some academic skills they will need for college-level course work.
Still, ACT data showed a higher percentage of Missouri students hit the benchmarks than the national average in all subjects -- English, math, reading and science.
About 74 percent of Missouri test-takers hit the mark in English, a score of at least 18, while just 30 percent did in science, which called for a score of 24.
The ACT is more popular in some states than in others. In Missouri, 70 percent of graduates -- 42,705 students -- took the test.
"The ACT consists of curriculum-based tests of educational development in English, math, reading and science. It is designed to measure skills needed in success for the first years of college," explained Dr. Cynthia Amick, New Madrid County R-1 curriculum director.
To help students prepare for the ACT, many schools offer interactive television ACT prep courses or prep courses offered by its teachers. Southeast Missouri State University also offers prep courses, the counselors noted.
Practice tests are administered to the students, the counselors said. ACT distributes a test for sophomores to high schools, and it's set up similar to the ACT. Its Web site also offers test preparation online.
Students are often encouraged to take the ACT several times and to begin during their sophomore or junior years, the counselors said.
The Associated Press contributed to his report.