Perfect ACT — times three — rooted in Catholic education

| October 3, 2017 | 0 Comments

Claire McMahon, a senior at Cretin-Derham Hall High School in St. Paul, talks with classmate Isaiah Sullivan during Spanish class. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

Cretin-Derham Hall High School student Claire McMahon had extra pressure when taking the ACT college entrance exam this fall.

Two of her older brothers, Matt and Michael, both scored a perfect 36 in 2015 and 2017, respectively, before graduating from CDH. It has made for friendly competition among the siblings ever since.

“It motivated me to be confident in my abilities, and walking in, I knew if they got a 36, I could also get a 36,” said Claire McMahon, a senior at the St. Paul Catholic school.

Earning a 36 herself made her the third perfect scorer in the family. CDH has had six perfect ACT scorers since 2015, with three coming from the McMahon family.

A perfect score is rare, so ACT Inc. doesn’t track if siblings hit 36. The probability of a student earning a perfect score is about 1 in 1,000 test takers.

“The ACT is not an IQ test, but rather an academic achievement test that measures what a student has learned throughout their years in school,” ACT Senior Director Ed Colby said in a CDH news release Sept 26. “So, a top score of 36 on the ACT reflects a student’s hard work and dedication in school. It’s rare enough for any student to earn a 36 composite score, but three siblings in one family each earning a top score is a truly remarkable achievement.”

The McMahons credit the excellence of education at CDH and other Catholic schools they’ve attended as key to their scores. Claire said she didn’t need a lot of extra prep time for the ACT because of it.

“My teachers prepared me well in all the coursework areas tested on the ACT. They allowed me to learn for understanding rather than just learn for a test,” said Claire, who previously attended Convent of the Visitation School in Mendota Heights for middle school.

All five of the McMahon children went to Holy Spirit Catholic School in St. Paul for grade school. Connie McMahon, their mother, said it laid a foundation of passion for learning in their early years.

“Throughout their education, they just had very supportive, committed teachers that have taught them to care about learning, not just teaching for a test or a standard test score,” Connie said. “The teachers they’ve had, you can tell they love what they’re teaching.”

Connie and her husband, John, have been long dedicated to Catholic education in the archdiocese. Connie has been teaching math at CDH for the past 29 years. John has served on various educational committees in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, including recent board membership with the Aim Higher Foundation, which provides need-based scholarships attending local Catholic schools.

Valuing Catholic education has carried on beyond CDH for their children. Four of them attend or earned degrees at Georgetown University in Washington D.C.

While the two oldest McMahon children, Jack and Kathleen, didn’t get perfect scores, both have launched successful careers in Washington D.C. and New York City respectively. That bigger picture is something Connie said she has emphasized for her children to think about in regards to standardized tests. She said “the community and the Catholic faith has taught them” to recognize the different gifts and talents in others.

“Who you are is what you do with the skills and talents that you have — not a score that you get on a test,” Connie said.

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