Your blog editor is Frank Hurdle. I'm a native of Holly Springs, Mississippi; and a graduate of Ole Miss, B.A. and J.D. I buy and sell rural land and practice law.
My philosophy of life is simple: When society or the free market rewards an activity -- monetarily or through approbation -- then society will get more of that activity. Punish an activity -- through taxation or otherwise -- and you will get less of it. Unfortunately, the geniuses who run this fine country of ours haven't figured this out yet.
It's time for high school students to start trying to guess what the National Merit Semifinalist cutoff score will be for their state. Official announcements won't be made until September 2014, but there is enough information available now to make some educated guesses on Mississippi's cutoff score.
The National Merit Scholarship Corporation has sent letters to schools notifying them of the names of approximately 50,000 top scorers in the annual National Merit Competition. This represents approximately three percent of the 1,579,720 juniors who took the test in October 2013.
Of this number, 16,000 will be named National Merit Semifinalists, using a formula that attempts to recognize the top one percent of graduates in each state, and most of these will become Finalists. The remainder will be considered Commended Students. Each state has a separate cutoff score for Semifinalists that won't be released until September 2014. The Commended Student cutoff is set nationally. For the Class of 2015 the national Commended Student cutoff score is 201.
That's two points lower than the 203 Commended cutoff last year, one of the highest ever. The Class of 2014 Mississippi Semifinalist cutoff was 207, two points higher than ever before. The year before the Commended cutoff was 200 and the Mississippi Semifinalist cutoff was 204.
National Merit Finalist status has become one of the greatest academic prizes that a student can receive. Some prestigious honors colleges aggressively recruit Finalists with guaranteed full-ride scholarships, dedicated employees, and even special housing just for National Merit scholars. I wrote about this last year.
So what is the Mississippi cutoff score likely to be? We can only make an educated guess using information from the chart above, which I got from the College Board website. The Commended cutoff was 201 for the classes of 2010 and 2011, and the Semifinalist cutoffs were 203 and 205 respectively. This year's reading scores have dropped relative to those and other years, but math and writing have improved.
Selecting the top one percent of students from a relatively small state is an inexact science. My personal opinion is that a cutoff score of 206 would result in substantially fewer than one percent of graduates while a cutoff of 205 may give Mississippi more than our share. My prediction is that the Mississippi cutoff score will be 205.
With that said, students with a 204 should not despair; some hope remains. The big drop in critical reading scores this year suggests some lopsided score totals. The student with uniformly high scores in all three subjects is more likely to get Semifinalist status than the one with only a single stellar score.
I'm always willing to put my money where my mouth is on these predictions, although people rarely take me up on it. I'm willing to wager up to $50 straight up that the Mississippi PSAT Semifinalist cutoff score for the class of 2015 will be 205. Offer expires June 1, 2014.
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