I recently wrote about the huge disparities in 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 photo is from one of the elementary schools 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 qualify 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!

Read Aimee Sachs’ Marietta Journal Article…