Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Do private school students score higher on the ACT?

Below is a chart reflecting the average ACT for local public and private schools.  For the purpose of this article I used mainly local schools.  To reflect a broader area, I included a couple schools from larger cities in the state of Missouri and one that is nearly-local in Arkansas.  For fun, I included a couple schools with a reputation for sending their students to Harvard and Yale.

School(s) ACT composite % Reporting # Grads
National average 20.9 54%
Missouri state average 21.6 74%
Greenwood Laboratory School 26.0 100% 36
New Covenant Academy 23.6 100% 29
Springfield Catholic High School 24.5 100% 81
Shiloh Christian School 25 100% 56
MICDS - St. Louis, MO 28.6 100%
Phillips Academy Andover - Andover, MA 30.2 100% 190
Phillips Exeter - Exeter, NH 29 100% 299
Pembroke Hill - Kansas City, MO 28-33 84%
Blue Eye public school 20.5 77.55% 49
Bradleyville public school 20.1 57.14% 28
Branson public school 22.4 64.60% 339
Clever public school
Forsyth public school 21.2 56.63% 83
Gainesville public school
59.09% 44
Galena public school 18.6 54.84% 31
Hollister public school 19.9
Hurley public school
Joplin public school 21.1 56.34% 481
Reeds Spring (public)
Spokane (public)
62.50% 32
Springfield (public) 22.2 65.14% 1655

I had the pleasure of talking with several admissions directors in the private schools reflected above.  Dr. Janice Duncan with Greenwood Laboratory is very proud of her Bright Flight rate -- a whopping 6%.  Delana Reynolds at New Covenant Academy is also proud of her students, with a Bright Flight rate of 3-6%.  Alicia Brown, the admissions director at Shiloh Christian School in Springdale, Arkansas, reported a Bright Flight rate of 20% for their Class of 2013!

What material does the ACT assess?

The ACT measures progress in at least four areas, and offers an optional writing test. 
  • English - standard written English and rhetorical skills
  • Math - math skills up through the beginning of grade 12
  • Reading comprehension
  • Science - interpretation, analysis, evaluation, reasoning, and problem-solving
  • Optional writing test

Why are high ACT scores important?

  • The ACT is an important tool used by parents and teacher to evaluate the progress of individual student learning 
  • Tuition discounts at colleges are given to students on a graduated scale, based on ACT score
  • Scholarships
  • Students can gain admission to a competitive college 
  • Students scoring a 31+ are considered "Bright Flight" students and usually receive a full-ride scholarship to a university

Are ACT score averages a perfect way to compare schools?

No.  Most private schools require the ACT to be taken by all graduating seniors.  Their averages therefore include the full range of students.  Currently, only 21 states require public school seniors to take the exam, and Missouri is not one of them.  Therefore, the state average ACT score for Missouri is slightly higher than states which do make the test mandatory.  Public school students taking the ACT are typically college-bound students, and the average score does not reflect the full range of students in Missouri public schools.  Therefore, we can expect that if all students were tested on a mandatory basis that the state average would drop.  You can view every state's average ACT score, along with the percentage of students reporting, on
Furthermore, ACT scores do not reflect mastery of material not assessed by the test.  In other words, subjects such as foreign language, overseas cultural experience, religion, music, and fine arts may be courses provided by a school that are not assessed by the test.  Not all benefits of private school education are appreciated by the ACT.

That's all fine for the ACT, but does the same hold true for the SAT?

Yes.  According to the Total Group Profile Report by the College Board, the organization responsible for developing and issuing the SAT, private school students significantly outscored public school students.  Here is the score averages for year 2011.

Type of High School Critical Reading Math Writing
Public school students 494 506 483
Religiously affiliated private school 531 533 528
Non-religously affiliated private school 541 579 550
National average 497 514 489

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