Seventh grade whiz kid stuns teachers, parents with ACT score
Nearly perfect on English portion of test, gets offer to study at Vanderbilt
By Kyle Barnett - May 16, 2013
Most graduating seniors do not come close to scoring a 27 on the ACT test, but 13-year-old J.B. Martin Middle School 7th grader Lauren Watson did just that this school year.
The average ACT score at Hahnville High School last year was 20.6, which is slightly higher than the state average of 20.2 and lower than the national average of 21.1.
When Lauren received a high iLEAP score she was asked by the Duke Talent Identification Program to take the ACT along with a select number of other students nationwide who received high standardized test scores.
Her mother, Holly, said they had not heard of the program before they were contacted.
"They had to score a certain percentile on the iLEAP to qualify. She scored in the 99th percentile in math," Holly said. "Usually it is language and reading that are her strong suit, but she is good at math as well. She is in advanced math at J.B. Martin and has been in the gifted program since first grade."
So Lauren went ahead and tried to prepare for the ACT test.
Holly said the practice test did not go so smoothly.
"We tried to do the practice test the night before," Holly said. "She had a hard time taking it because it was timed. So she just said ‘I am going to know what I know.’"
Lauren showed up Destrehan High School where she took the test with high school students who would like to enter college following graduation. Although other 7th grade students in the parish would take the test, none would sit in the same session as Lauren.
"I was the only 7th grader and I sat in the front row and it felt like they were staring at me the whole time," Lauren said.
However, Lauren did not let the unease of the situation get to her. She went about taking the test as if it were administered to her for one of her middle school courses.
Through the four components of the test - English, math, reading and science - Lauren struggled at times, but completed what she could.
"During the ACT for math and science, some of them had concepts I didn’t know about or understand," she said. "So I spent more time on it."
She said although she did not fully complete any section of the test, she came closest on the English portion, which has been her strongest subject.
"I didn’t think I really did that good on English because I felt I was really rushing. I was about to fill in my last bubble when they called time," Lauren said. "I started to freak out on the spot."
At the end of the day, while she was not disappointed with her performance, she still felt she had not done as well as she possibly could have.
"I just took my time and looked over everything. I kept in my mind that no matter how well you do it’s a good opportunity," she said. "I knew it wasn’t like I was in high school and that this was the test that determined what college I would go to. This is just a practice run to see what it feels like."
So a few weeks later when the results came back in the mail, Lauren was expecting a different score than what she found when she opened the envelope.
"I was just freaking out when we got it in the mail. I thought I would get a 20, but when I got a 27 I was like ‘oh my gosh!’" she said.
Lauren scored above average in every subject, receiving a 22 in math, a 23 in science, a 29 in reading and a 33 in English, which was only three points away from a perfect score.
She was the only 7th grader who participated in the Duke Talent Identification Program to meet the "grand recognition" standard for those receiving the highest scores.
"There were 64,044 kids that took it nationwide and only 1,670 qualified for grand recognition," Holly said.
That means she joined the top 2.5 percent of an already elite group of 7th grade students nationwide.
Holly said she and her husband, Michael, were taken aback by their daughter’s success.
"We were shocked because she didn’t think she did that well," Holly said. "One of her teachers said she didn’t score that well until she took it the last time in high school."
After her performance, Lauren began to receive letters from universities across the country asking her to take part in all expenses paid academic summer programs. In all she received offers this summer to study at Northwestern State University of Louisiana, Southern Methodist University, Davidson College, Trinity University, Wake Forest University and Vanderbilt University.
Although the Watsons are happy that she received the offers, they had to turn them down. Lauren has other plans.
"She has two dance competitions this summer so she is not going to be able to go to any (colleges) because she is already committed," Holly said.
Despite her success in traditional academic pursuits, Lauren’s passion is for the arts. She has been a competitive dancer for the past 10 years and has also pursued acting as a Talented Theater student where she has already performed in seven plays.
It is her hope that one day that she can attend the Julliard School, the most exclusive performing arts conservatory in the country. In fact, on a recent trip to New York she was able to visit the school as well as take in a Broadway show.
"I really like New York because it was big and bright and full of life," Lauren said. "It was just really interesting because it is a lot different from here where everybody knows almost everybody else. There it was big and everybody is always walking and doing something."
While Holly does not try to dissuade her daughter from a career in performing arts, she is trying to push her in a different direction than strictly performance.
"I am trying to push more towards behind the scenes as a writer of producer, something with longevity," Holly said.
Lauren has big dreams for a teenager and thinks excelling in academics and scoring highly on the ACT at an early age is just the beginning for her and may help her on the path to turning her dreams into reality.
"I just think that it really was a good thing because I have this core that I automatically think that somewhere inside I will do really good in high school and get into a really good college and have a promising future," Lauren said.
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