Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Oxford High School sets record with 12 National Merit semi-finalists

    The National Merit Scholarship Foundation has announced the names of Mississippi's semi-finalists and Oxford High School has set a record with 12 semi-finalists. The school had 11 semi-finalists in 2010. Congratulations are in order!
    Oxford tied Jackson Prep, which also had 12 semi-finalists, and came in second only to giant Madison Central, which had 21.
    Sixteen thousand students nationwide and 138 in Mississippi earned semi-finalist status. Most of these students will earn Finalist status by validating their score with the SAT test and by having good grades.
    Oxford High School winners were: Robert Adamson, Dora Chen, Taide Ding, Rosalie Doerksen, Chase Gladden, Harleigh E. Huggins, Samuel Mossing, Jimmy Pan, Jessica L. Pearson, David E. Rozier, Tiffany Torma and Yujing Zhang.
    I'm fairly certain that back when I took the PSAT test there was one national qualifying score. I didn't make it and was instead a "Commended" student. Today each state has a separate cutoff score, while the "Commended" score remains at the 98th percentile. Last year the cutoff for a Commendation was 203. This year a score of 204 in Mississippi earned Semi-finalist status, so there would be no fate more frustrating than to be "Commended" in Mississippi. Looks like nobody got stuck in that wagon. Other state cutoff scores include: W. Va., 200; Ala., 209; Texas, 216; N.J., Mass., and D.C., 221. Click here to see a list of all states and their cutoff scores. Note that boarding schools have higher cutoff scores!
    Scoring in the 98.1 to 98.3rd percentile isn't easy -- but it's easier than having to score in the high-99th percentile, which is what students in Massachusetts and a few other states have to do. For many students, it's a reachable goal.
    I get the feeling that a lot of students don't prepare for the PSAT. Yet diligent preparation can easily add a few points and capture Semi-Finalist status. And Finalist status can easily be worth $100,000 or more at a school like Ole Miss, Auburn, Alabama, or Oklahoma, which offer full- or nearly-full-ride scholarships to National Merit Finalists.
    The large number of Oxford Semi-finalists isn't an anomaly; it's the wave of the future as Oxford grows larger and attracts brighter students. Each year a slow trickle of students from Clarksdale, Marks, Batesville, Holly Springs, and elsewhere enrolls for the first time. Many of these students are from families that liked their local public or private school but are worried about the lack of Advanced Placement, foreign language, or other classes that an affluent school district like Oxford can offer. And Oxford has a cluster of high-IQ students which makes it attractive to parents looking for a place to place their own high-IQ children. For an interesting book on the benefits of clustering high-IQ students, see A Class Apart: Prodigies, Pressure, and Passion Inside One of America's Best High Schools
    This type of IQ clustering takes on a life of its own. Once a school establishes itself as having a substantial cluster of high-IQ students, parents of other high-IQ students will try to move in to allow their children to associate with their intellectual peers. College professors tend to have bright children; the presence of these bright children in the local school system can be a recruiting tool for the university.
    Last year my son took part in the Duke Tip program, where 7th-grade students take the ACT -- and a substantial number made a 20 or higher. Do a little number crunching and you soon realize that most of these students have a very good chance of earning National Merit honors in four years, barring illness or bad luck. My guess is that my son's class is in line to have a dozen or more National Merit scholars as well.
    In fact, my view is that if the school system would work to identify these high-ability students in fourth or fifth grade and give them an accelerated curriculum Oxford could easily have 20 National Merit Finalists each year. Right now the students are doing their job. It's time for the school district to step up to the plate and provide a more rigorous curriculum.
    Congratulations again to this year's winners. And to this year's juniors, you have about a month before you take the PSAT, so start studying. Oxford needs at least a dozen semi-finalists next year!

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