No Improvement: ACT Says College Exam Scores Are Stagnant

26 Aug 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

ACT scores stagnant for Class of 2015.

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) – Mississippi’s ACT scores were flat last year, although a few more Magnolia State students are ready for college by the standards of the test. U.S. high schools haven’t shown much improvement in the past four years when it comes to preparing college-ready graduates, according to the Iowa-based nonprofit group that administers the ACT college entrance exam.But Florida’s scores lagged the nation’s, and ACT officials said scores nationally should be a “wake-up call” that too many students leave high school ill prepared for college.Average ACT scores for the Class of 2015 barely budged in English, math, reading and science, while writing scores in Illinois and the nation dipped to the lowest in a decade, suggesting that many graduates may have a tough time with college-level writing assignments. The group says only about 40 percent of graduating high school students who took the ACT exam this year show a “strong readiness” for college in most subject areas.

The college entrance exam results released Wednesday reveal a troubling national portrait of students who aren’t fully prepared for higher education, despite changes across the country in standards, curriculum, instruction and testing meant to improve performance. That’s still below the national average, which stayed steady at 21 this year. “While the state saw an increase in 2014 in the average composite score for graduating seniors in public and private schools, this year’s ACT score remained flat at 19,” state Superintendent Carey Wright said in a statement. “This report shows that Mississippi must continue to challenge students with higher standards and rigorous coursework that will better prepare them for college.” Mississippi paid $1.3 million for all high school juniors to take the test last year, but Mississippi Department of Education officials say those results won’t register until current seniors graduate. Research from the testing company suggests that students who don’t meet the benchmarks are likely to struggle in first-year core courses at two- and four-year colleges.

The Illinois State Board of Education touted Illinois’ 20.7 composite score, tied with Colorado, as the highest of the 13 states that test all students. Alabama, Mississippi and North Carolina, which had 100 percent participation in ACT testing, and Hawaii, which had 93 percent participation, had lower scores than Louisiana in the figures released early Wednesday. The data also shows negligible changes among ethnic groups since 2011, with white and Asian American students still dramatically outperforming other ethnicities.

Judy Pritchett, chief academic officer for the Macomb Intermediate School District, said the ACT results are just one piece of data schools look at to evaluate their curriculum. Thirty states and the District of Columbia posted higher composite scores than Illinois, though all had smaller percentages of graduates taking the ACT.

But it can have big consequences for students. “It is a door opener for some kids, either to get into college or more importantly to qualify for some kind of financial assistance,” Pritchett said. Just 15 percent of black students and 23 percent of Hispanics met the college readiness benchmarks in three or more subjects, while 58 percent of whites achieved that distinction. In July, the state released data showing that the number of public high school seniors who scored well enough on the ACT to enter college without remedial work continues to grow: 24,619 students earned an ACT score of 18 or higher. A benchmark score is the minimum score needed on an ACT subject-area test to indicate a 50 percent chance of earning a B or higher or about a 75 percent chance of obtaining a C or higher in a corresponding credit-bearing college course.

That’s a boost of 959 students from 2014 and of 6,312 students from 2012, according to data released by the department. “Our numbers for mathematics have remained low, especially for African-American students when compared nationally,” White said. “And this really argues for continuing to have high standards in math and continuing to have high levels of access to challenging college-track course work as early as possible for our students.” The stagnant results “further demonstrate the need to end the nation’s failed experiment with test-driven education,” said Bob Schaeffer, public education director at the National Center for Fair and Open Testing (FairTest). Some northeastern states with high average scores have relatively few students take the ACT because the SAT is the dominant college test in that region. Black students in Missouri averaged a 17.3 composite score, while white students had a 22.6. “We’re talking about hundreds of thousands of U.S. high school graduates who won’t earn a two- or four-year college degree because they aren’t academically prepared to do so,” Whitmore said. “We simply must do better.

Illinois also tested the most students among all states — 129,752 — in writing, pushing up the total number of test-takers on the writing exam to 1.1 million — the highest number since the writing test was introduced in 2005. Writing scores have dipped nationally from 7.7 in 2006 to 6.9 this year, based on an essay written from a prompt that requires students to take a position on an issue.

Steve Zemelman, director of the Illinois Writing Project, which trains teachers, said educators need more training and students need more instruction in writing.

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