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Pursuit of perfection on display in Colorado Springs-areas ACT scores

July 10, 2016 Updated: July 11, 2016 at 1:56 pm
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Harry Karasopoulos is a rocket scientist with four diplomas.

He and his wife both have doctoral degrees. But they're no match for their 16-year-old son Ryan, one of seven Colorado Springs-area students who earned a perfect score on the ACT test during the 2015-16 school year.

"We figured it wasn't out of the realm of possibility. He's just a lot smarter than we are," laughed Harry, who earned his master's degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The list of perfect scorers, six rising seniors and one recent graduate, includes students from Cheyenne Mountain, Coronado, Palmer Ridge, Pine Creek and Rampart high schools.

Less than 0.1 percent of students who take the ACT earn the top score. Of the 57,328 students who graduated from Colorado high schools in 2015, only 36 scored perfectly, according to the company that administers the test.

"I was pleasantly surprised," said Ryan Karasopoulos, who will be a senior this fall at Coronado High School.

Ryan Karasopoulos earned a 35 on the ACT last spring and, after taking dozens of online practice exams, was able to bump his score up a point.

"Just by going through those (practice tests) over and over and seeing what I got wrong, seeing what I needed to work on - I think that was the number one thing that helped me to prepare for the actual test," he said.

Jasper Howald, a rising senior at Palmer Ridge High School, hopes his perfect score will help him get into MIT, where he plans to study math and physics,

"Even though I'd done OK previously, I just wanted to make sure I did my best," said Jasper, who had earned a 34 on the test before scoring a 36. "I was a little nervous going in just because this was my big one - the last one I was going to take."

The 2015-16 academic year was the last year that all 11th-graders at public high schools in the state were required to take the ACT to qualify for college admission. Beginning next school year, all juniors will take the SAT, the Colorado Department of Education said in December. The tests are paid for by the state.

The ACT is broken into math, reading, science and English sections, each with 40 to 75 questions. But a perfect score of 36 does not necessarily mean a student answered all questions correctly - the composite score is an average of all four section scores, leaving room for a few mistakes, said ACT spokesman Ed Colby.

"A student who earns a 36 likely has mastered all of the subject-area content that he or she will need to succeed in first-year college courses," Colby said. "It's a measurement of what students have learned, not an IQ test or aptitude test."

While most colleges and universities in the U.S. require applicants to submit SAT or ACT scores, universities in the Colorado Springs area rely on much more than standardized testing results to determine whether a student is qualified for admission or merit-based scholarships.

The University of Colorado at Colorado Springs and Colorado State University-Pueblo use the state's Admission Eligibility Index, which assigns applicants a score based on high school ranking, grade-point average and SAT or ACT score.

"We take everything into account," said Chrissy Holliday, director of admissions at CSU-Pueblo. "The ACT and SAT scores are not the be-all and end-all of how a student will perform in college."

The average ACT score for students in CSU-Pueblo's incoming freshman class is about 21 or 22. Consideration for the university's highest-level scholarship usually begins at a score of 30, Holliday said.

Students admitted to UCCS score an average of 23 or 24, said Chris Beiswanger, the school's director of student recruitment and admissions counseling.

The median ACT score for Colorado College's Class of 2019 is 31, according to the school's admissions department.

"While we recognize that a perfect ACT score is certainly an indication of a student's perseverance and commitment, test scores are only one piece of the puzzle," Leslie Weddell, a spokeswoman for the college, said in a statement.

At the Air Force Academy, those who score below a 24 on the English and reading sections or a 25 on the math and science sections are not usually considered for an appointment, according to the academy's admissions website.

Phillip Hutcherson, owner of Colorado Springs-based SAGE Affordable Tutoring, said he often sees students who have scores in the 30s who are pushing for better results, but perfect scores are rare.

"A lot of kids are self-motivated and self-driven," Hutcherson said. "They want to get the best score possible."

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Contact Rachel Riley: 636-0108

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