Student Achievement/School Performance

Starting a College Planning Book Club

Activity: Starting a College Planning Book Club

Through our work with schools and school districts throughout the United States and in Bermuda we are providing important college admissions and financial aid guidance to thousands of students and parents. However, there are simply too many students and families continuing to lack access to sufficient college planning information within their schools and communities. Subsequently, we were inspired by Patrick Johnson, Director of Equity and Excellence, in the Tacoma Public Schools, and his work in creating book clubs for elementary and middle school students.

Click here to see the Tacoma Public Schools Book Club video:

We have followed Patrick’s lead and now support College Planning Book Clubs in schools, churches, and communities throughout the country to ensure that more students and families have access to important college admissions and financial aid planning information.

In addition to the foundational texts, A High School Plan for Students with College-Bound Dreams (book and workbook), used to begin each book club, we provide monthly activities to guide the reading and research of book club members. In addition to the Starting a College Planning Book Club activity that you may download to guide your efforts in starting a book club, following are some of the activities that book clubs have received during 2014 to guide their efforts.

Activity 1: A Context for the Conversation


Develop a context for the many conversations that will occur between you, the student, and your parents, teachers, counselors, coaches, mentors, tutors and anyone assisting you with conceptualizing your college-bound plans.

Guiding Questions

  • What is my plan to maximize my 2 million minutes of high school?
  • What is my anxiety level based on where I am in the college planning process?

Activity 2: My Student Profile


Develop a student profile to focus your college and financial aid research.

Guiding Questions

  • What is my current student profile?
  • How can I compare my profile to those of other students?
  • How can I use my profile to guide my scholarship research?

Activity 3: High School Graduation Requirements


Ensure that you are fully aware of your progress toward fulfilling your state high school graduation requirements and that you understand the requirements for state sources of financial aid.

Guiding Questions

  • What are my state’s high school graduation requirements?
  • What are the course requirements for admission into the state university system?

Activity 4: Self-assessment—My Gifts and Talents


Perform a self-assessment of your gifts and talents and identify those areas that may be further developed during high school to qualify for merit-based scholarships or to expand your college admission opportunities.

Guiding Questions

  • What are my gifts and talents and am I working hard enough to develop them to the level necessary to influence college admissions and scholarship opportunities?
  • Am I maximizing opportunities within my school and community to develop my gifts, earn recognition, and serve in leadership roles?

Activity 5: Whom Do I Need on My Team?


Determine the college planning support you currently have or will need.

Guiding Questions

  • How competitive will it be to gain admission into top colleges?
  • How much work will be required to develop a high quality college application package?
  • Who are the people or what are the programs from which I will require support?

Activity 6: Developing My College List


Develop a list of colleges that will provide the context for your college planning activities and conversations.

Guiding Questions

  • What type of college, i.e., large institutions, liberal arts, highly competitive, special focus schools (e.g., visual arts, music, theatre arts, HBCUs, military service academies, etc.) community colleges, or technical schools would I like to attend?
  • Where can I research information about the colleges on my list and identify similar types of colleges?
  • What are the benefits of pre-college programs, Honors Colleges, and Study Abroad programs?

Activity 7: Self-reflection and Self-assessment


Engage in a self-reflective and honest self-assessment of your level of competitiveness in the college admissions and scholarship application processes.

Guiding Questions

  • How do I compare to the type of students who apply to the colleges on my list?
  • What is the Common Data Set?

Activity 8: AP, IB, and Dual/Joint Enrollment


  • Understanding the impact of Advanced Placement (AP), International Baccalaureate (IB), and Dual/Joint Enrollment on college admissions.
  • Understanding how to research the potential tuition savings of AP, IB, and Dual/Joint Enrollment classes.

Guiding Questions

  • What are the AP, IB, and Dual/Joint Enrollment options at my high school?
  • Which program is most closely aligned with my college and career aspirations?
  • What are the potential tuition savings for each program?

Activity 9: Course Work and Teacher/Counselor Evaluations


  • Developing your high school course schedule.
  • Identifying what will be required to receive the highest teacher/counselor evaluations.

Guiding Questions

  • What level of course work is expected by the colleges and universities to which I am planning to apply?
  • What type of academic assistance is available to support my enrollment in the classes I am planning to take?
  • What personal qualities will my teacher and counselor be evaluating?

Additional college planning book club activities will be posted as they are released.

Click here to download the Starting a Book Club Activity…

ACT College Readiness 2012: African Americans

Why focus on demographically identifiable subgroups?

One of the challenges in my work with schools, faith-based organizations, and community agencies is to get them to take a holistic view of student achievement within the context of demographically identifiable subgroups. By this, I mean raising the question, “How are students from our ‘demographic group’ faring in their journey from kindergarten through college?” The question itself provides a much more salient focus than does national high school graduation rates, college enrollment rates, student loan rates, and student performance. As Ministry Leaders for the Education Ministry at the Turner Chapel AME Churchin Marietta, Georgia, my wife and I must concern ourselves with how students like the students who attend our church are doing in their journey from kindergarten into college and careers. To do anything else would cloud our judgment and shift our focus from the challenges that are unique to their demographic group.

From the ACT report, “African American Students, The Condition of College & Career Readiness: Class of 2012” we learn that among 2012 high school graduates who took the ACT college entrance examination, the following reflected the percentage of all students who met the ACT college readiness benchmarks in the four subject-areas tested:

  • 67 percent of all students met the benchmark in English
  • 52 percent of all students met the benchmark in Reading
  • 46 percent of all students met the benchmark in Mathematics
  • 31 percent of all students met the benchmark in Science

While the percentage of all students meeting the college-readiness benchmarks may be disappointing, the percentage of African American meeting the benchmarks is tragic. Of the 222,237 African American high school seniors taking the ACT, there was as much as a three-fold gap in their performance and that of students from other demographic groups with only 5 percent of African American students meeting the college-readiness benchmarks in all four subject areas. As evidenced by the illustration below, it is critically important for students, parents, teachers, institutions, and organizations to take demographic subgroup performance data into consideration when determining the scope of what must be done (whether as an individual student choosing to participate in a study group, a parent choosing to enroll their child in tutoring, or an organization choosing to initiate a college/career readiness program).

What it Means and What We Must Do

Demographic subgroup data should:

  • Sensitize students to how students from their demographic subgroup are performing in comparison to other students
  • Provide a catalyst for conversations between teachers and parents concerned with intervention
  • Guide organizations concerned with subgroup performance (i.e., faith-based institutions, sororities, fraternities, and community-based organizations) in developing initiatives and focusing their outreach efforts

A Working Model

National and local subgroup performance data (i.e., SAT/ACT scores, high school graduation rates, college enrollment rates, AP course enrollment, performance on state testing and end-of-course exams, and student loan debt) have been the driving force behind our work in the Turner Chapel AME Church’s Education Ministry. The types of initiatives we have implemented in response to such demographic subgroup data provides a model for other institutions and organizations concerned with the plight of the students and families they serve.

Information Workshops

The workshops that we provide sensitize students and parents to the tragically low K-12 student performance of African American students. Through the plethora of published research, we are able to paint a clear picture of performance outcomes for African American students during their P-16 journey from elementary school through college graduation. While the data is tragic for the entire group, only 10 percent of African American males are proficient in reading by 8th grade.

Beyond the raw data are research studies pertaining to the “anti-intellectual” peer culture many African American students find themselves confronted with where it is not cool to be black and smart. However, with over 60 percent of African American ACT-test takers enrolling into a postsecondary institution following their high school graduation, there is a very important context to frame all of this data in discussions with parents and their children,

“Only 5 percent of African American students are college-ready,
while 60 percent of African American students are pursuing college!
Subsequently, rather than languishing over the 95 percent
who are not college-ready at the end of 12th grade,
let’s focus on what we must do for the 60 percent
who are going to enter college! Placing the data into
such a context can lead to some very remarkable initiatives.”

Training Workshops

While the information workshops serve as a catalyst for parents and students to accept a proactive role in closing the gap between African American students and other subgroups, the training workshops provide the necessary guidance in closing the gap and expanding students’ college options. By drawing on the immense college knowledge and professional capacity of our church members, we offer workshops in essay writing, résumé development, interviewing, course planning, leadership, community service, choosing right summer camps, marketing students to top colleges, college and scholarship research, and college application packaging.

Academic Celebrations

In much the way as other communities make a big deal about athletic competitions, we make a big deal about academic achievement. We publicly acknowledge students in grades K – 12 who earn a 3.0 GPA or higher through 2 bi-annual academic celebrations. Students earn an academic achievement medal, their names are printed in the church bulletin, they are publicly acknowledged via a PowerPoint presentation, their names are publicly called before the entire congregation, and they are publicly celebrated in a reception held in their honor.


To ensure that students who are inspired to do better can, and students who are doing well have the opportunity to pursue even more rigorous course work, we offer tutoring in math and reading.


To ensure that students in grades 3 – 8 are able to perform successfully on Georgia’s Criterion Referenced Content Tests, we offer two months of test prep sessions in reading and math.

The Next Episode

In response to well publicized research pertaining to the “college knowledge gap,” which indicates that many African American students and families lack sufficient information pertaining to college planning, college readiness, and college access, we work monthly with high school juniors and seniors guiding them through the college planning and financial aid processes. Through these efforts we have students who have been recognized as Gates Millennium Scholars, Posse Foundation Scholars, and have received full need-based and merit-based scholarships to some of America’s best colleges and universities.

College Fair

To ensure that students are exposed to the full spectrum of colleges and universities, we host an annual college fair where some 50 colleges and universities from local technical schools to some of the country’s most highly selective colleges and universities are represented. Over 2500 students and parents annually have the opportunity to expand their understanding of what it takes to be admitted and what level of student performance is required to be college ready.

College Panel Discussion

We host an annual college discussion panel of current college students from a broad range of public, private, technical schools, military service academies, selective, and highly selective colleges and universities who provide candid insight into how they got admitted, what they have to do to be successful, how much support their institution provide, the differences between PWIs and HBCUs, and what they wish they had done differently while attending high school.

College Tour

Beyond the college fair where students see brochures and listen to recruiters, we ensure that students are able to visit campuses and speak to admission officers face-to-face to further assist students in understanding what is required to be college ready and to be competitive in the college admissions process.

11th and 12th Grade College and Financial Aid Planning Cohorts

Our newest initiative is to work hands-on with 11th and 12th grade students and their parents to ensure that students are college ready, understand the many financial aid options and opportunities, and guided toward the right college choices based on each student’s unique need, gifts, talents, and circumstances.

High School Graduation Celebration

The annual high school graduation celebration provides a formal and very public opportunity to highlight where students have been accepted into college, how much money students have received in scholarships and institutional grants, and how successful students have been in their K-12 performance to ensure they are college ready.

All of these initiatives are in response to demographic subgroup data. Each initiative is led by a parent, educator, counselor, minister, or student who has accepted a role in increasing student outcomes. While anyone can look at student performance data and point the blame at schools, teachers, students, or families—it takes very special people to accept a personal role in changing outcomes. I believe that such special people exist within each church, fraternity, sorority, school, and community. Please contact us if you would like us to show you how to get started.

Contact us at:

Visit our Facebook Page: Turner Chapel AME Education Ministry

Hidden Benefits of Good Schools

I recently wrote about the huge disparities in 2012 ACT scores between the top performing and lowest performing high schools (based on their ACT Composite scores) in the Cobb County Georgia School District. Other than this district being where my children attended elementary school, the reason for my blog posting was in response to a parent at our church who had seen headlines applauding the rise in ACT scores in the county. The elementary school where my children attended school, is in the cluster of schools that feeds into the high school with the top ACT Composite scores and highest number of National Merit Finalists. A close examination of the top ranked high schools will invariably reveal that students move through a cluster of schools, which include the top ranked elementary and middle schools in the state.

This is not about test scores, it is about the quality of education that is ultimately revealed in the test scores and the hugely disparate opportunities awarded to students who benefit from earning high GPAs and test scores in high performing schools. The huge disparity between the median ACT Composite scores at the top performing high school and the lowest performing high school (53 percent difference), is a pathway to the hidden benefit as revealed by the number of students qualifying as National Merit Semifinalists, and the potential scholarship dollars and preferred college admissions that accompany’s such a recognition. The National Merit Scholarships are awarded to students based on their 11th-grade PSAT scores. It is important to note that the PSAT is a very different exam from the ACT. However, it should not come as a surprise that the highest PSAT scores are coming from students attending the same schools where they are earning the highest ACT scores.

The hidden benefits for students attending such schools should be clear:

  • Preferred college admissions
  • Automatic scholarships based on GPA, SAT, ACT, and PSAT scores
  • Increased college readiness
  • Savings in college tuition based on AP exam scores
  • Many students in the highest performing high schools enter college as sophomores, due to the number of first-year college classes waived as a result of their AP exam scores (saving a full year of college tuition, room, and board)

Only nine high schools in the county had students who qualified as National Merit Semifinalists. In only two high schools did the number of students qualifying as National Merit Semifinalists exceed the high school’s state ranking—Walton, ranked 6th in that has 25 National Merit Semifinalists and Lassiter, ranked 4th in the state and has 5 National Merit Semifinalists.

Following are the nine Cobb County high schools, their median ACT scores, state ranking, and the number of National Merit Semifinalists. If the ACT score is in bold, then the score did not meet the ACT college readiness benchmark score.

Walton (Composite Score 25.6): State Ranking (6); 25 National Merit Semifinalists

  • English – 25.6
  • Math – 26.0
  • Reading – 25.7
  • Science – 24.6

Lassiter (Composite Score 24.6): State Ranking (4): 5 National Merit Semifinalists

  • English – 24.3
  • Math – 24.8
  • Reading – 25.0
  • Science – 23.9

Pope (Composite Score 24.6): State Ranking (8): 7 National Merit Semifinalists

  • English – 24.5
  • Math – 24.6
  • Reading – 25.0
  • Science – 23.8

Kennesaw Mountain (Composite Score 23.8): State Ranking (20): 2 National Merit Semifinalists

  • English – 23.3
  • Math – 23.4
  • Reading – 24.1
  • Science – 23.7

Wheeler (Composite Score 23.5): State Ranking (62): 15 National Merit Semifinalists

  • English – 22.9
  • Math – 23.6
  • Reading – 24.0
  • Science – 23.2

Harrison (Composite Score 23.2): State Ranking (11): 3 National Merit Semifinalists

  • English – 23.0
  • Math – 23.0
  • Reading – 23.5
  • Science – 22.9

Hillgrove (Composite Score 22.3): State Ranking (23): 1 National Merit Semifinalist

  • English – 22.0
  • Math – 21.9
  • Reading – 23.1
  • Science – 21.8

Campbell (Composite Score 20.6): State Ranking (83): 3 National Merit Semifinalists

  • English – 20.1
  • Math – 20.7
  • Reading – 20.8
  • Science – 20.2

North Cobb (Composite Score 20.5): State Ranking (69): 1 National Merit Semifinalist

  • English – 19.9
  • Math – 19.8
  • Reading – 21.2
  • Science – 20.7

With the high cost of college tuition, room, and board, parents must do everything possible to ensure their children receive as much “pre-college” money as possible. I use the term pre-college to refer to the scholarship money that students qualify for, even before they have applied to college or for any formal scholarships. Some of the areas of “pre-college” money are:

  • National Merit and National Achievement Scholarships based on PSAT scores
  • Institutional scholarships that colleges offer to Valedictorians and Salutatorians
  • Institutional scholarships that colleges offer to students based on their SAT or ACT scores
  • Legacy scholarships
  • Institutional scholarships based on a student’s class ranking
  • Service scholarships based on participation in Boy or Girl Scouts, Beta Club, Junior Achievement, etc.
  • Merit Scholarships offered to students who are inducted into the National Honor Society, Math Honor Society, Science National Honor Society, etc.

Not all children are fortunate enough to attend the highest performing schools. It is important for parents and students to maximize the opportunities and minimize the inequities by supplementing their own learning. The easiest way is to simply find out what students are doing at the highest performing schools and ensure that your child is following their lead!

Parent Involvement is the Clearest Predictor of College Access

The Texas Comprehensive CenterBriefing Paper on Parent and Community Involvement in a College/Career-Ready Culturenotes:

“The literature on parent and community involvement is extensive. However, there is little rigorous, experimental research; rather, the literature consists primarily of descriptive case studies or correlation studies, along with numerous studies involving survey data. The same holds true for research around development of career and college readiness. Furthermore, there is very little to be found on the combined topics of parent/community involvement, college/career readiness, and student achievement.”

Some of the key findings of available research indicate that students with involved parents, no matter what their income or background, are more likely to:

  • Earn high grades and test scores and enroll in higher-level programs
  • Pass their classes, earn credits, and be promoted
  • Attend school regularly
  • Graduate and go on to postsecondary education
  • Although parental involvement is important through all the years of school, it changes as children develop; therefore, a student in middle or high school benefits from a different type of parental involvement than does an elementary school student
  • the most consistent finding in studies of parental involvement was “the importance of parents’ educational aspirations for their children”

Similar research findings are reported in, Succeeding in the City: A Report from the New York City Black and Latino Male High School Achievement Study, where young men of color note the importance of parent expectations pertaining to their academic achievement:

  • High expectations for school success were conveyed in myriad ways. Most common was parents’ dissatisfaction with grades they believed were unreflective of their children’s full potential.
  • In several interviews, young men recalled how they felt good about earning 90% on tests, but their parents’ reaction was “why didn’t you get a hundred?”
  • Some had proven their academic aptitude in elementary school, but their grades declined in middle school. Their parents refused to excuse this change and instead nagged the teens, found ways to get them tutor-ing and other forms of academic support, and punished them by taking away privileges they had come to enjoy.
  • One young man recalled a pivotal moment in his academic trajectory. He started getting 70s and 80s on report cards, instead of the 90s he had consistently earned prior to middle school. His dad took him on a long car ride outside of the city to express two things: (1) how he believed the young man was capable of doing better; and (2) why B’s and C’s were unacceptable. Concerning the second point, the father told his son that he expected him to be someone great in life, to go to college; accordingly, mediocre grades would not get him there. That car ride resonated with this young man from that point onward.
  • Others remembered specific things family members and others said to them at various junctures in their educational trajectories that helped them realize how great they were destined to be.

Despite these two research studies profiling students and parents in two different states (Texas and New York), parent expectations is an important component in the academic outcomes of their children. It is clear that parents should engage in:

  • Communicating expectations for achievement and value for education
  • Fostering educational and occupational aspirations
  • Discussing learning strategies
  • Preparing and planning for the future

To best ensure a successful transition to college or a career parents should:

  • Know about college admission or career requirements so that they may appropriately guide their children’s courses and activities
  • Understand student assessments that will allow them to track progress toward meeting the requirements
  • Understand financial aid options
  • Understand the application process

Cultivating home-school partnerships requires that educators understand that the lack of parental involvement of African-American, Hispanic, and low-income parents is not so much attributable to shortcomings of parents themselves as they are to structures and policies, which create invisible walls and inhibit interaction with schools such as:

  • Inflexible work schedules
  • Language barriers
  • Lack of comfort with school staff
  • Conditioned mistrust

Overcoming these barriers requires:

  • Obtaining input from families regarding information and resources they need to support their children’s college aspirations
  • Familiarizing families with services that provide academic support and college planning and provide these services in a family-friendly environment
  • Ensuring that families from all cultural, social, linguistic, and community backgrounds are included in outreach efforts
  • Partnering with faith-based, community organizations, and institutions of higher education to provide college planning and financial aid information

Research indicates that for low-income families, information on financial aid is extremely important, and parents need the information early in their child’s education so they can build and reinforce his or her aspirations to attend college.

Succeeding in the City: A Report from the New York City Black and Latino Male High School Achievement Study, notes that even schools that successfully cultivate college-bound cultures can lack sufficient insight and understanding of the full range of needs of students who will be the first in their families to attend college or who are living in high poverty communities:

  • “This is like a small college,” one young man said of his high school. Others described college-going cultures that had been fostered in their respective buildings.
  • There were poster-sized spreadsheets on a bulletin board in the guidance counselor’s office at East Bronx Academy for the Future that listed each graduating senior’s name in one column.
  • Other columns were used to track whether students had taken the SAT; applied to CUNY, SUNY, and other postsecondary institutions; submitted the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), as well as applications for scholarships and other forms of financial aid (e.g., New York State’s Tuition Assistance Program); and had been accepted to college.
  • Students received big checkmarks in each column after one of these college-related activities had been completed. Fascinating to us was that almost every student listed on the spreadsheet had a near-complete row of checkmarks next to her or his name.
  • We also thought compelling that the spread-sheet was so large and so public. The guidance counselor explained that teachers, parents, and peers often interact with the bulletin board; if they see that a student has not done something on the list, they would ask (and some-times harass) her or him about it.
  • In that same office was another bulletin board that included college-related terms and their definitions. Students who would be first in their families to attend college probably would not have other-wise known the meanings of certain terms on the bulletin board (i.e., early decision, AP course, FAFSA, TAP, EOP, HBCU, and Bursar’s Office), hence its importance.
  • Participants at the 40 high schools frequently noted how teachers doubled as college advisors who offered assistance with the college choice process, admissions and scholarship applications, SAT prep, and financial aid documents.
  • “Did you see the signs above the classrooms?” one young man asked. “We are encouraged to talk to teachers about where they went to college; they help
  • Copies of college acceptance letters were stapled to bulletin boards and taped to walls in several other schools we visited.

However, although students at many schools are being inspired to pursue college, the report notes that even these schools are failing to provide students with pertinent information pertaining to financial aid and scholarships:

  • Despite their academic performance, few participants planned to finance their college education via scholarships and merit-based awards.
  • Although some expected to receive Pell Grants and awards from the New York State Tuition Assistance Program (TAP), an alarming number of students planned to finance college through student loans and working off-campus jobs.
  • We occasionally asked if they knew about the Gates Millennium Scholars Program, income threshold and no-loans financial aid policies at elite private colleges and universities, or the Posse Foundation’s scholars program (financial aid initiatives for which their grade point averages and socioeconomic statuses would likely qualify them); their answers were almost always no.
  • One young man planned to simultaneously work full-time and be a full-time college student. Although his socioeconomic status would surely qualify him, he had never heard of on-campus employment opportunities via the Federal Work Study Program.

Schools must do more to foster a culture of high expectations, make parents feel welcomed, provide parents with the information and resources they need to encourage their children’s aspirations early during their schooling, and expose students to the wide range of scholarship and financial aid opportunities based on their gifts, talents, and family circumstances.

National Achievement Scholarship

National Achievement Scholarship Program

The National Achievement® Scholarship Program is an academic competition established in 1964 to provide recognition for outstanding Black American high school students. Black students may enter both the National Achievement Program and the National Merit® Program by taking the Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (PSAT/NMSQT®) and meeting other published requirements for participation. The two annual programs are conducted concurrently but operated and funded separately. A student’s standing is determined independently in each program. Black American students can qualify for recognition and be honored as Scholars in both the National Merit Program and the National Achievement Program, but can receive only one monetary award from NMSC.

Student Entry Requirements

To participate in the National Achievement® Scholarship Program, a student must:

  1. take the PSAT/NMSQT® in the specified year of the high school program and no later than the third year in grades 9 through 12, regardless of grade classification or educational pattern;
  2. request entry to the National Achievement Program by marking Section 14 on the PSAT/NMSQT answer sheet, thereby identifying himself or herself as a Black American who wishes to be considered in this competition as well as in the National Merit® Scholarship Program;
  3. be enrolled as a high school student, progressing normally toward graduation or completion of high school, and planning to enroll full time in college no later than the fall following completion of high school; and
  4. be a citizen of the United States; or be a U.S. lawful permanent resident (or have applied for permanent residence, the application for which has not been denied) and intend to become a U.S. citizen at the earliest opportunity allowed by law.

Information supplied by the student on the PSAT/NMSQT answer sheet determines whether the individual meets requirements for participation in the National Achievement Program. Click here to see NMSC program entry items on the PSAT/NMSQT answer sheet, including the section Black American students must mark to request consideration in the National Achievement Program. A school official or the student should report immediately to NMSC any error or change in reported information that may affect participation.

Program Recognition

Of the more than 160,000 students who currently enter the National Achievement® Program each year, over 4,700 are honored. A group of about 3,100 Outstanding Participants are referred to colleges for their potential for academic success. A smaller group of about 1,600 are named Semifinalists, the only students who have an opportunity to advance in the competition for National Achievement Scholarships.

National Merit Scholarship

National Merit Scholarship Program

The National Merit® Scholarship Program is an academic competition for recognition and scholarships that began in 1955. High school students enter the National Merit Program by taking the Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (PSAT/NMSQT®)–a test which serves as an initial screen of more than 1.5 million entrants each year–and by meeting published program entry/participation requirements.

Student Entry Requirements

To participate in the National Merit® Scholarship Program, a student must:

  1. take the PSAT/NMSQT® in the specified year of the high school program and no later than the third year in grades 9 through 12, regardless of grade classification or educational pattern;
  2. be enrolled as a high school student, progressing normally toward graduation or completion of high school, and planning to enroll full time in college no later than the fall following completion of high school; and
  3. be a citizen of the United States; or be a U.S. lawful permanent resident (or have applied for permanent residence, the application for which has not been denied) and intend to become a U.S. citizen at the earliest opportunity allowed by law.

The student’s responses to items on the PSAT/NMSQT answer sheet that are specific to NMSC program entry determine whether the individual meets requirements to participate in the National Merit Scholarship Program. Click here to see NMSC program entry items on the PSAT/NMSQT answer sheet. Score reports provided for test takers and their schools indicate whether the student meets program entry requirements. A school official or the student should report immediately to NMSC any error or change in reported information that may affect participation.

Program Recognition

Of the 1.5 million entrants, some 50,000 with the highest PSAT/NMSQT® Selection Index scores (critical reading + mathematics + writing skills scores) qualify for recognition in the National Merit®Scholarship Program. In April following the fall test administration, high-scoring participants from every state are invited to name two colleges or universities to which they would like to be referred by NMSC. In September, these high scorers are notified through their schools that they have qualified as either a Commended Student or Semifinalist.

Increasing Black Male College Access and Success

The illustration above is from the National Black Male College Achievement Study by Penn University Professor Shaun R. Harper, Ph.D., “Black Male Student Success in Higher Education.” The study provides a different research perspective as to the plight of Black males in gaining access to, and succeeding in, higher education. As opposed to a deficit-based perspective seeking to identify all of the challenges to Black male educational attainment, Dr. Harper examines the support mechanisms and assets of Black males who have successfully navigated P-16 education into advanced degrees and a broad range of careers.

Dr. Robert M. Franklin, President of Morehouse College, is quoted as noting the importance of the 5Ms, “Messaging, Mentoring, Monitoring, Ministering, and Money,” as representing important areas of strategic thinking for policymakers:

  • What are the messages being sent to Black males as they navigate their P – 16 journey through higher education?
  • What type of mentoring are they in need of as they progress through early adolescence, puberty, and into manhood?
  • What monitoring mechanisms are needed to monitor their academic achievement, social development, intellectual and creative development?
  • What type of ministering to their sense of social, community, spiritual, and humanitarian consciousness is needed?
  • And finally, what type of financial support, i.e., money, will they need to gain access to, and support themselves, through college degree attainment?

Dr. Harper provides important insight into how reframing deficit-oriented questions such as:

  • Why do so few Black male students enroll in college?
  • What are Black male students’ grade point averages often the lowest among both sexes and all racial/ethnic groups on many campuses?


  • How were aspirations for postsecondary education cultivated among Black male students who are currently enrolled in college?
  • What resources are most effective in helping Black male achievers earn GPAs above 3.0 in a variety or majors, including STEM fields?

I was particularly pleased to note that the Pre-College Socialization and Readiness questions reflected in Dr. Harper’s Anti-Deficit Achievement Framework are being addressed through our work at the foundation and through our partnership with the Turner Chapel AME Church Education Ministry. As a result of Dr. Harper’s research, we now have plans to incorporate additional questions pertaining to college achievement and post-college success into our College Panel Discussions. Parents and students should incorporate such questions into their college research and evaluation efforts:

  • What transition support does the college offer for incoming freshmen who may not have had adequate preparation in their secondary schools?
  • Are class sizes, student-faculty ratios, and campus culture best suited to student needs?
  • What opportunities are provided for students to foster relationships with instructors?
  • What opportunities are provided for students to engage in research and internships?
  • What support and encouragement is provided to stimulate and nurture students’ degrees beyond the baccalaureate?

While raising such questions is important for all students considering their many postsecondary opportunities, there is a critically important question that parents of  Black males, and students themselves must consider, “How will the institution treat me while I am there and how will the institution prepare me for the type of racism I am likely to encounter as I pursue graduate or professional degrees and enter the post-college workplace?” Answering this question was important in guiding the college choice of our older son, who ultimately chose Amherst College, and in part, guided our younger son in narrowing the list of colleges to which he has applied:

Important findings for parents, educators, and policymakers to take into consideration are:

When asked, “Did you always know you were going to college?” the overwhelming majority of students responded, ‘Yes—it was never a question of if, but where.’ From boyhood through high school, parents and other family members reinforced to the achievers that college was the most viable pathway to social uplift and success. Interestingly, nearly half the participants came from homes where neither parent had attained a bachelor’s degree. Although they had little or no firsthand experience with higher education, these parents cultivated within their children a belief that college was the only allowable next step after high school.

When asked what differentiated their own paths from those of their peers who were not enrolled in college, the participants almost unanimously cited parenting practices. Their friends’ parents, the achievers believed, did not consistently maintain high expectations and were not as involved in their sons’ schooling. By contrast, most of the achievers’ parents and family members more aggressively sought out educational resources to ensure their success—tutoring and academic support programs, college preparatory initiatives, and summer academies and camps, to name a few.

Some of the key recommendations from the study are:

  • Importance of consistently high parent expectations
  • Equipping Families with College Knowledge
  • Culturally sensitizing teachers, counselors, and postsecondary faculty to the practices and processes that are harmful to student achievement and aspirations
  • Importance of college preparatory experiences
  • Removal of financial barriers
  • Importance of summer bridge programs
  • Assuming institutional responsibility for Black males student engagement

Much of what is echoed through the reflections of the young men in the study as well as the key recommendations are reflected through our work with students and families:

  • Closing the college-knowledge gap
  • Assisting parents and students in identifying summer and pre-college programs
  • Developing writing and communication skills
  • Engaging in college research
  • Identifying sources of financial aid
  • Identifying the best college choice
  • Preparing quality application packages to be considered for admissions into highly-selective colleges and universities
  • Providing academic tutorial support
  • Developing a sense of social and community consciousness

Perhaps most importantly, reinforcing the message, “It is not if you are going to college, only where are you going to college!” We are eagerly anticipating Dr. Harper’s forthcoming book, “Exceeding Expectations: How Black male Students Succeed in College.”

Many of the factors articulated as having contributed to the success of the Black men interviewed in Dr. Harper’s research are reflected in research findings from Ivory Toldson, Ph.D., in, “Academic Success for School-age Black Males” and in The Journal of Negro Education issue, “Academic Success for School-age Black Males”:

  • Importance of parents and family as an important contributor to Black male achievement
  • Importance of educational institutions in involving parents in school readiness and collaborating with parents to ensure nurturing and supportive actualizing school-based experiences for Black youth
  • Benefits of an authoritative parenting style on Black male behavior and academic achievement
  • Impact of after-school programs, tutoring, social skills training/group counseling, recreational, and cultural activities on strengthening Black male academic achievement
  • Types of classroom environment and learning experiences cultivated by classroom teachers
  • Impact of race-related experiences on Black male achievement
  • Importance

Another important recommendation is:

“Religiously affiliated institutions should provide tutoring, mentoring, preparatory workshops for college entrance tests, scholarship for the talented but underprivileged, assistance with college applications, youth summer jobs/programs, assistance to poor families, and spirual services and assistance to Black male inmates and to former inmates who have transitioned back to the community.”

There is clearly a role that faith-based and community organizations must accept if we are to increase the numbers of academically successful Black males.

Click here to for the research study…

Click here to download Superintendent’s Conference Presentation…

Marva Collins Video…

Morehouse College Video…

What is Your Child Learning?

As we approach the winter break, after the first of the year, most students will be receiving their first semester report cards. Parents should sit down with their children and carefully review their grades and the type of classes that students are taking. For example an ‘A’ in an AP class is not the same as an ‘A’ in an on-level class, just as an ‘A’ in PE is not the same as an ‘A’ in Calculus. As parents, we must not only encourage, support, and celebrate our children’s grades, we must ensure that they are learning. The failure to ensure that our children are developing the proper foundation in reading and math can lead to dire results when, as high school seniors, they find themselves neither college ready nor college bound.

Consider the following trends as they pertain to student performance in reading and math on elementary school and middle school assessments, through their performance on the ACT as potentially college-bound seniors.

The 2011 NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress) Math report indicates that for fourth- and eighth-graders:

  • Nationally, only 33 percent of fourth-graders are proficient in math
  • In many urban school districts, the percentage of fourth-grade students demonstrating math proficiency is less than 20 percent
  • Nationally, only 26 percent of eighth-graders are proficient in math
  • In  many urban school districts, the percentage of eighth-grade students demonstrating math proficiency is less than 15 percent

Nationally, by eighth grade, many students are not only performing below proficiency, they have fallen off of the college pathway altogether into lower level math classes:

  • Only 33 percent of eighth-graders are taking algebra
  • 22 percent of eighth-graders are taking pre-algebra or introduction to algebra
  • 26 percent of eighth-graders are taking basic or general math
  • In many large urban areas, less than 20 percent of students are taking algebra by eighth grade

The 2011 NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress) Reading report indicates that:

  • Nationally, only 34 percent of fourth-graders are proficient in reading (as low as 14 percent in some racial groups)
  • Since 1992, the percentage of fourth-graders demonstrating proficiency in reading has only increased 5 percentage points
  • Nationally, only 34 percent of eighth-graders are proficient in reading (as low as 14 percent in some racial groups)
  • Since 1992, the percentage of eighth-graders demonstrating proficiency in reading has only increased 5 percentage points

The ACT Report, “The Condition of College & Career Readiness: 2011” provides important warnings for parents of elementary school and middle school students. The percentage of students considered “college-ready” in each of the four subject-areas tested on the ACT are:

  • 66 percent in English
  • 52 percent in Reading
  • 45 percent in Math
  • 30 percent in Science
  • 25 percent in all four subjects
  • 28 percent of students are not ready for college in any subject-area

Student performance varied widely, with the following percentages considered college-ready in all subject-areas by racial group:

  • 41 percent of Asians
  • 31 percent of Whites
  • 11 percent of Hispanics
  • 11 percent of Native Americans
  • 4 percent of Blacks

Most students’ college dreams far exceed their level of college preparation:

  • 85 percent of White students aspire toward a 4-year college degree or better with only 31 percent of graduating high school seniors demonstrating that they are ready for college
  • 84 percent of Asian students aspire toward a 4-year college degree or better with only 41 percent of graduating high school seniors demonstrating that they are ready for college
  • 80 percent of Black students aspire toward a 4-year college degree or better with only 4 percent of graduating high school seniors demonstrating that they are ready for college
  • 78 percent of Hispanic students aspire toward a 4-year college degree or better with only11 percent of graduating high school seniors demonstrating that they are ready for college
  • 78 percent of Native American students aspire toward a 4-year college degree or better with only 11 percent of graduating high school seniors demonstrating that they are ready for college

Although 8 out of 10 of our children aspire to go to college, less than 3 in 10 have been prepared by the 12th grade to succeed in college. We, as parents, must do more to monitor our children’s learning during the critical elementary-through-middle school years. We must look beyond their report card grades to what they have actually learned!

Download the ACT National or State Reports…

STEM Majors Beware

A recent New York Times article, “Why Science Majors Change Their Minds (It’s Just So Darn Hard)” reminded me of my own change of heart. I entered Northeastern Universityas an Electrical Engineering Major and eventually changed to the College of Business with a dual major in business and financial systems design. Engineering was not what I thought that it would be and business and financial systems design was much better suited to my interests in business management and consulting. More than the difficulty of the classes, my reflections are directed more at the lack of guidance that I received in high school toward selecting a college or college major. I do not recall my high school counselor doing much more than reviewing my transcript to determine that I could possibly go to college, however, that was the extent of his guidance. He gave me a brochure for ITT (Illinois Institute of Technology) and wished me well.

For today’s students, future jobs are in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics-related fields (STEM) as President Obama has affirmed and economists have long proclaimed. However, we continue to do a terrible job teaching and preparing K – 12 students in science, technology, and mathematics on the front end and a comparably terrible job teaching and supporting such students once they get to college. Subsequently, students pursuing such areas of studies at the college level are ill prepared for the rigor of such disciplines. The New York Times article reports that:

“Freshmen in college wade through a blizzard of calculus, physics and chemistry in lecture halls with hundreds of other students. And then many wash out.”

  • 40 percent of students planning engineering and science majors eventually switch to other majors or fail to get any degree
  • The numbers increase to 60 percent when pre-medical students, who typically have the strongest SAT scores and high school science preparation, are included

However, after accounting for the lack of K – 12 preparation and the lack of college support, many students still find college-level coursework in engineering and math abstract and boring, while many such students find majors in business and the arts more passionate and engaging. Again, this should be pointed out to students in their secondary schools as they are contemplating their college majors and making important decisions regarding their high school course schedule. I too, found my math and science classes at Northeastern boring and abstract while my business management and computer programming classes were challenging and engaging. However, I have no regrets at having chosen Northeastern University, which has the largest cooperative education program in the world. I had 18 months of full-time professional experience at graduation and had my choice of jobs throughout the country, eventually accepting a job at IBM in San Jose California as a systems design analyst.

Although Northeastern was the only college that I applied to, before wasting thousands of dollars, parents and students need to take a much closer look at the colleges that students apply to and the majors that students select. Perhaps, this is even more important for students pursuing STEM-related careers. Choosing the right college can make all of the difference between getting a degree and not getting a degree.

According to the United Negro College Fund:

Clearly, some colleges are experiencing much higher levels of success with students in STEM-related fields.