Taft students improve scores on ACT college entrance test


by BRIAN NADIG

The percentage of Taft High School juniors scoring at least 20 on the ACT college entrance exam has increased from about 30 percent in 2011 to 50 percent in 2015, and the percentage of seniors who were accepted to a college has increased from 72 percent in 2013 to 87 percent this year.

The "state of the school" report was given during the May 12 meeting of the Taft High School Local School Council.

"Everything is going right," Taft assistant principal Brian Tennison said at the meeting. "This is a good time to be here. It’s the teachers who are doing the magic."

The school’s average ACT score was 19.6, compared to 19 in 2014, when the citywide average was 18. The average ACT score for students in the school’s International Baccalaureate Diploma Program, which accepts students from outside the school’s attendance area, was 25.

It also was reported that the retention rated in the school’s diploma program was about 50 percent in 2013 and is projected to increase to 75 percent in 2017. About 120 freshmen entered the program this school year, but participants do not take their diploma classes until their junior and senior years.

Taft also is looking to increase the number of Advanced Placement and diploma exams taken by students from 960 this year to 1,600 in 2016. Some students take several of the tests, which allow students to earn college credit, in the same year.

School counselors identify students for AP classes by using results from the PSAT, a preliminary college entrance exam that is designed by the same company that administers the AP program, Taft principal Mark Grishaber said. In the past only about 50 Taft students took the PSAT, but now about half the students will take the test, Grishaber said.

Some LSC members expressed concern that unqualified students might be placed in an AP class and be required to pay the $90 test fee for the class even through they are failing the course and have no realistic chance of passing the AP exam in that course. Students who qualify for the federal free and reduced-cost lunch program pay $12 per test.

Tennison said that it is important that the school provide greater access to AP courses because the rigor of the classes will help students in the long run. He said that a study showed that even when students do not earn college credit because of a low score on the AP exam, they tend to succeed when they take that course in college.

The passing rate on AP exams last year for Taft Students was 23 percent, but that figure hopefully will be at about 50 percent in a few years, Grishaber said after the meeting.

It also was announced that the number of clubs at Taft increased from 64 in 2014 to 110 this year and that four new sports teams, including boys’ rugby and girls’ lacrosse, were started. Taft also won nine conference championships and city championships in boys’ softball and pom pons.

Also at the meeting, LSC parent member Joe McFeely reported that there continues to be problems with school buses not being available to transport school teams to and from games. McFeely said that the baseball team recently had to take taxicabs to a game and that students were stuck in the rain because there was not a waiting bus. "(That) time kids got into cars with other kids and drove away with five kids in a car," McFeely said.

School officials said that the highest demand for buses occurs in the spring and that the school system at times will divert buses to large events.

Grishaber said that the best solution would be for Taft to buy buses for after-school activities but that school system policy prohibits that.

The LSC also approved several spending requests, including $199,000 for the purchase and installation of new seats in the school auditorium and $23,753 for books for AP classes. The council also recently completed its annual principal evaluation report, LSC chairwoman Lisa Schwieger said.

Taft assistant principal Eric Flores reported that the school’s projected enrollment for this fall is 3,303. The Chicago Public Schools’ Web site lists the school’s enrollment in 2014 as 3,079.

The council’s next meeting will be at 6 p.m. Monday, June 8.


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