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Lafayette Parish School System student Alfred Wigman, left, gets his hair cut by Phillip Jean-Louis and student Jay Ismail, right as his hair cut by Des White Sunday, Aug. 6, 2017 during "Kuts for Kids" & "Stuff A Backpack" at Blue Cliff College in Lafayette. The event was sponsored by the Upsilon Rho Chapter of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Incorporated, 100 Black Men of Greater Lafayette Inc., and Cox Communications.

Advocate Photo by Brad Kemp

When I hear education officials and school principals talk about statewide scores, I sit up a bit. I guess it’s part of being an athletic competitor in me. I’m about winning.

Over the past several months, there have been announcements by the Louisiana Department of Education about how students have fared on their ACT college readiness tests. And a few weeks earlier there was a report how many of our students successfully participated in the Advanced Placement classes.

While not glowing in either category when compared to their compadres across the nation, our students, overall, are inching higher. That’s always a good thing.

However, there is a “but” here. But, if you look closer at the findings, there is something that stands out and it should be cause for concern. In some circles that concern ought to be outrage. But, there has been virtually little more than a murmur. Maybe not that.

The average ACT score reported for African-American students was 17.5, the same as it was the year before. A perfect score on the ACT is 36. So 17.5 is not good.

Here’s more.

Students scoring below 18 risk not being able to be accepted at any four-year public college in Louisiana. Also, all-important TOPS scholarships are based partly on the ACT scores. A 17.5 average on the ACT doesn’t help your chances of get one of those TOPS financial rewards.

Of course, there are mitigating circumstances that have been cited for the poor average. Socioeconomic situations, home environment, poorly funded schools, lack of parental involvement — all may be to blame. But, shouldn’t the community and education leaders be concerned enough to come to the table with real solutions?

Where is the breathless concern of community and education leaders? If the top education leaders can’t get it done, various concerned community leaders and others should demand improvements or seek national assistance?

One other thing. There are school systems that create super schools by pouring millions of dollars into buildings with classrooms flush with the latest technology. They set high standards for students to enter, which in turn attracts the best and brightest teachers. They then leave the rest of schools in virtual disrepair, with scant technology and little or no special attention to the average and marginal students who are left.

Those other schools should be given extra means to compete because, stripped of their best students, these schools obviously will have the hardest fight just to stay near average.

Why is that ACT score so important?

The ACT score shows college admission officers that a student’s GPA and transcript are accurate representations of their academic ability. Also, a higher ACT score can make up for a poor GPA.

Several years ago, I coached a young woman preparing to give her valedictorian speech.

She was a 3.8 GPA student at her high school but had a 17 ACT score.

She was a pleasant young woman, but there was no doubt that would not be a 3.9 GPA at a number of high schools. She thought she deserved a scholarship, but her ACT score stopped her from getting a scholarship from the school she wanted to attend.

She said she was never encouraged to prepare for the ACT, its importance was never explained to her, and that she only took it once; the ACT can be taken a number of times.

We failed her.

There is something else that bothers me. There is something called Advanced Placement classes. Essentially, high school students can take college-level courses through AP, take a test in the courses and get college credit for the ones passed.

Overall, the number of students in Louisiana taking the AP classes have nearly tripled over the past five years, according the latest Department of Education report. Even so, only about a third of those tested in 2017 earned a high enough score to get them college credit.

Looking deeper into those numbers something else become clear: There are few African-American students participating. The report shows that 781 out of 5,143 African-American students earned passing scores. (At least 19,193 students were tested.) The passage rate for the African-American students is a 17 percent increase over the prior school year, and that’s something state education officials rightfully are proud to tout.

However, looking closer, you find that 23 school systems in Louisiana did not have a single African-American student take an AP exam in the 2016-17 school year. How can that be? Shouldn’t there be a conversation with the leadership and communities about this bizarre finding?

These are educational anomalies that need to get someone’s attention.

Just before I finished writing this column, I heard a radio talk show host say residents of New Orleans “have a tolerance for mediocrity” in government. Maybe some of us have that same tolerance about education.

Email Edward Pratt, a former Advocate newspaperman who writes a weekly column, at epratt1972@yahoo.com.