Monday, September 23, 2013

Congratulations to Oxford High's 11 National Merit Semifinalists -- about five percent of junior class

National Merit Scholarship Program semifinalists are: Abbigail Pullen, Yuqi Zhao, Dion Kevin, Brian Clancy, Matthew Forgette, Yoomin Jo, Joelle Young, Cynthia Torma, Shreya Mathur, Mary Kathryn Pearson, and Reid Mallette.

    I mentioned about three weeks ago that the release of National Merit semifinalists was coming soon. It came and not a word from me. Better late than never.
    Once again Oxford High School had a tremendous number of semifinalists: Eleven this year. Last year the school boasted a record 12 semifinalists. I said at the time I didn't think these large Semifinalist numbers were an anomaly. I believe they are the wave of the future. People from throughout the Delta and other parts of the state are flocking to Oxford because of the good school system. The type of parents who are willing to make this type of move tend to have smart children, sometimes very smart.
    The Tupelo Daily Journal reported the names of Northeast Mississippi students who made the Semifinalist cut this year. There were a total of 18 Semifinalists in the entire northeast region covered by that newspaper, which goes as far west as Lafayette and Marshall Counties and as far south as Oktibbeha County. Eleven of the 18 were from Oxford High School. They are:

  • Brian Clancy
  • Matthew Forgette
  • Yoomin Jo
  • Dion Kevin
  • Reid Mallette
  • Shreya Mathur
  • Mary Pearson
  • Abbigail Pullen
  • Cynthia Torma
  • Joelle Young
  • Yuqi Zhao

   There are approximately 16,000 Semifinalists nationally; this year Mississippi had 136. Each state has a separate cutoff score, which is designed to recognize the top one percent of students in each state, and so the number from a low-population state will fluctuate a good bit each year, as it  is impossible to set a score that will recognize exactly one percent. Mississippi's cutoff score this year was 207, up three points from last year. By comparison, Tennessee has a cutoff score of 212; Massachusetts and New Jersey have cutoffs of 224. National Merit also offers "Commended" status to the almost-made-its, roughly the top four percent. This year the national cutoff for Commended status was 203 for all states, unchanged from last year.
    The Mississippi School for Math and Science apparently led the National Merit race statewide (from a percentage standpoint), with 12 of approximately 120 juniors being selected, or about 10 percent. Of course, MSMS should do well; it's a magnet boarding school that only takes extremely bright kids.Oxford had 11 out of approximately 220 students selected, or about five percent of juniors. I can't find the link, but I believe Madison Central High School had 23 Semifinalists this year. But that school has more than 550 juniors, so about four percent of its students were Semifinalists.
    As I mentioned earlier, Oxford High School is starting out with some of the brightest kids in the state. But to achieve the numbers that it's getting the school is clearly doing something right. This past year Oxford also had eight students who scored a 35 or 36 on the ACT. Roughly 5,000 students nationally made a 35 or 36, out of almost 1.7 million who took it. It's just unheard of for a relatively small school to produce these kinds of scores.
    Oxford High School is not perfect, but a strong argument can be made that academically it is the best public school in the state of Mississippi, and that it is better than almost all private schools as well. The only possibly "better" schools I can think of in the entire state are MSMS, which isn't open enrollment, and private St. Andrews Episcopal School in Jackson. Of course the floor is open for additional nominations in the comment section.
    I'm fascinated by the opportunities that Mississippi and other students from low cutoff states have in gaining Semifinalist status. In the most competitive states one has to score in something like the national 99.7th percentile to snare the award. In Mississippi it's more like the 97.5th percentile.
   What this means is that every student who participates in the Duke TIP program as a seventh-grader ought to have a shot at earning Semifinalist status. The TIP program is open to students in roughly the top five to seven percent of their class all students nationally, and I think five years of hard work can move one from the 93rd percentile to the 97th percentile. A Duke TIP participant whose ACT score puts him in the top half of this group ought to be a Semifinalist -- provided he puts in the work that he is supposed to over the next five years. Unfortunately, I'm not sure how many students are parents are aware of the fact that Semifinalist might be an attainable goal.
    I've written about the National Merit test a number of times, and in the next few days I'm going to have a couple of additional posts. If it's overkill, no one is required to read them!

Edited 9-26-13 to add photo.

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