A publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

ACT report shows KY’s public high school grads meet college-readiness benchmarks

The percentage of Kentucky public high school graduates meeting the state’s college-readiness benchmarks on the ACT college-entrance exam in reading and mathematics increased marginally, but slightly fewer students met the state English benchmark, according to data released by ACT.

Commissioner Stephen Pruitt said the report indicates that Kentucky still has “some serious work ahead of us” to ensure all students are prepared for the next level.

The state benchmarks represent the minimum scores that guarantee students entry into corresponding credit-bearing courses at Kentucky colleges and universities without the need for developmental education or supplemental courses. (ACT also has its own College Readiness Benchmarks, which are different than Kentucky’s benchmarks, and represent the minimum score needed on an ACT subject-area test to indicate a 50 percent chance of obtaining a B or higher or about a 75 percent chance of obtaining a C or higher in credit-bearing college courses.) 

Nationally, overall achievement – both the average ACT Composite Score and the percentage of students meeting ACT College Readiness Benchmarks – rose slightly in 2017, an increase ACT officials attributed largely to the reduced number of states administering the ACT to all students as compared to last year.

In the past five years, Kentucky public school graduates have registered slight ups and downs in scores from year to year with nearly every subject up overall since 2014.

“This year’s results are mixed,” said Education Commissioner Stephen Pruitt. “As we look to the future, we must recommit ourselves to take each and every student to higher achievement levels.” 

For the past few years, ACT has included scores for students receiving extended-time accommodations in its summary reporting. These students typically register lower test scores than students who do not receive additional time to take the test. Eight percent of Kentucky test-takers receive ACT-approved accommodations as compared with 5 percent of students nationally. 
Composite scores for various groups of public school graduates are up from where they were several years ago, but the numbers illustrate that achievement gaps persist.

Pruitt said it is imperative that each student has an opportunity to graduate ready to take the next step in education or workforce training. The state is putting an emphasis on strategies to close achievement gaps and working with schools and districts to do so as well as rethink student learning and engagement in high school, he said.
“In Kentucky, we are working to move each child to higher levels of learning while also determining the root cause of achievement gaps, which we believe stem from opportunity gaps and access to rigorous, high-quality learning opportunities,” Pruitt said. “Students excel when presented with challenging and interest-driven projects or instruction. That is true for all students, both advanced and less advanced. We must make sure that low income and minority students have the same opportunities to excel as their classmates.”

Pruitt said this year’s flat ACT scores reinforce that the timing is right for Kentucky to take a serious look at its graduation requirements and move forward with a new accountability system that is designed to promote and hold schools and districts accountable for student achievement and significantly reduce achievement gaps. The Kentucky Board of Education approved the regulation for the new system last month.

“The new accountability system goes beyond test scores and moves away from a compliance mentality to encourage continuous improvement for all our students,” Pruitt said. “The new system is about promoting proficiency and the closure of achievement gaps for every child.”

There is a strong correlation between student performance on the ACT and the rigor of the courses a student takes in high school. While Kentucky’s minimum high school graduation requirements of four years of English and three years each of mathematics (including Algebra 1, Algebra 2 and geometry); science and social studies aligned with ACT’s recommended core curriculum, the rigor of the courses varies widely. Generally speaking, the more rigorous the courses the student takes, the better the student performs on the ACT. 

For the 2017 graduating class report, ACT, Inc. used students’ scores from the last time they took the test, either as a junior or senior.

Statewide data for the junior class who took the ACT in March 2017 will be released in the School Report Card later this fall. 

See the ACT national story here.

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One Comment

  1. This is not good news for those who said Common Core State Standards would improve college readiness.

    Common Core came on board in Kentucky back in 2010 and the state started testing students against the Common Core with aligned tests in reading, writing and math in the 2011-12 school term. The high school graduates of 2017 were in the seventh grade when Common Core testing started in Kentucky and they obviously had a fairly lengthy exposure to the standards. So, we now have a trend line from the ACT worth examining in relationship to Common Core impacts.

    Looking at the first table in the article, there was a steady decline from 2015 to 2017 in the percentage of students meeting the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education’s ACT English Readiness Benchmark score. English is covered by the Common Core’s English language arts standards, of course.

    Common Core also covers math. The first table also shows Kentucky’s readiness benchmark performance for math is notably worse in 2017 than it was in 2015.

    After over half a decade of Common Core, when only around half or fewer of Kentucky’s students reach even the relatively low reading and math benchmark scores set by the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education (Both are lower than College Readiness Benchmark Scores set by the ACT itself), the Bluegrass State has a real problem.

    Commissioner Pruitt’s concerns about achievement gaps are also well-founded. Data in the third table in the article show the ACT Composite Score achievement gap for whites and blacks is no different in 2017 than it was back in 2014. The Bluegrass Policy Blog has more analysis of the gaps, and the picture isn’t good for any of the academic areas the ACT tests: English, math, reading and science.

    Kentucky is currently in the process of reviewing its existing Common Core based education standards in the English language arts and math areas. This new ACT information indicates that more than just cosmetic changes are needed if we really want our students ready for what comes after high school.

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