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September 3, 2015

Fewer High School Grads Ready for College According to Latest Recent SAT results

Just as last year, this year’s SAT results included results from the College Board’s two other testing programs— the PSAT/NMSQT and their Advanced Placement (AP) exams— providing a more complete picture of student progress towards college readiness throughout high school.

While ACT results released last week showed overall scores among the graduating class of 2015 remaining flat, SAT scores saw a significant drop. In fact, scores on the college-entrance exam are at the lowest level in the ten years since the College Board included a writing section to go along with the critical reading and mathematics sections. Not only have SAT scores been declining in the long-run, scores dropped by 7 points in just the past year alone. Making it the largest one-year drop since the inclusion of the writing section. Furthermore, scores dropped in each of the three sections as well.

Stark differences are also evident when it comes to the ACT and SAT college-readiness benchmarks. According to the ACT, slightly more students are graduating high school college-ready than in the previous year. Yet, SAT results show fewer students are graduating college-ready. Although each exam has their own method of determining college-readiness, it would be expected that the year-to-year changes would be somewhat similar. However, that is not the case for the 2015 results.

Since neither the ACT nor SAT are representative of all high school graduates nationwide it is impossible to pinpoint why the two tests are providing such conflicting information about the quality of our nation’s high schools. That is because in most states these tests are optional, so only those students expecting to go onto a four-year college are likely to take the exams. Furthermore, there are a number of students who take both the SAT and ACT, so their scores are counted twice which can impact scores as well. Furthermore, the ACT and SAT measure different skills, although in the coming years this will be less of an issue as the SAT will be redesigned to align with the Common Core which the ACT already is.

However, there can be a number of reasons why ACT and SAT are providing such conflicting reports. It could be that since the ACT has become more popular throughout the country and more colleges are accepting the ACT that fewer higher-performing students in traditional ACT states may be taking the SAT but still taking the ACT. It could also be that more lower-performing students, who previously would not have taken the SAT, are now taking the college-entrance exam which would lower SAT scores, at least the short-run.

Unfortunately, there is not a clear answer. But considering the fact that almost every other indicator of the effectiveness of our nation’s high schools points in a positive direction, we shouldn’t put too much weight on one indicator such as the SAT. We know that more students than ever are graduating on-time with a regular diploma and do so by having completed more rigorous courses. Moreover, more of these graduates are going on to college than ever before. Yet, despite these positive results this year’s SAT results paint a much dimmer picture. With that said, it will be important to keep our eyes on the SAT results in the coming years to see if this year’s results are an anomaly or the start of trend. In the meantime, educators, school board members, and other policymakers shouldn’t put too much stock in one year’s results but should dig deeper into the SAT results for their local schools to see what they can learn so they can better prepare future graduates to get into and succeed in college.—Jim Hull


The Findings

Overall SAT Scores

  • The combined score in each of the three SAT sections- Critical Reading, Mathematics, and Writing— were at a 10-year low of 1490 when the Writing section was first introduced.
  • The combined scored dropped 7 points in just one year. This is the largest drop in a single year since the Writing section was introduced.
  • Scores dropped in all three sections from 2014 to 2015.
    • Critical Reading declined from 497 to 495.
    • Mathematics scores fell from 513 to 511.
    • Writing scores dropped from 487 to 484.

College Readiness

  • Less than half (41.9 percent) of the test-takers met the SAT College-Ready Benchmark in 2015, which is a decrease from 2014 when the rate was 43 percent.
    • The SAT College-Ready Benchmarks represent a student who scores a combined 1550 or higher. Students hitting this benchmark have a 65 percent chance of earning a B-minus grade point average in their freshman year courses.
  • Minority students less likely to be college-ready.
    • Just 16.1 percent of black students and 22.7 percent of Hispanic students were college-ready, according to the SAT’s Benchmark.
      • More black students reached the college-ready benchmark in 2015 than in 2014 (15.8 percent).
      • However, fewer Hispanic students reached the college-ready benchmark in 2015 compared to 2014 (23.4 percent).
    • On the other hand, over half (52.8 percent) of white students met the benchmark in 2015 and 61.3 percent of Asian’s students.

SAT Test Takers

  • Just over 1.7 million students from the Class of 2015 took the SAT sometime during their high school which was a 3 percent increase from 2011.
  • More minority students taking the SAT.
    • Nearly a third (32.5 percent) of test-takers were underrepresented minorities in 2015, compared to 31.3 percent just a year earlier and 29 percent in 2011.

PSAT/MNSQT (10th grade exams) Results

  • Nearly 4 out of 10 10th graders who took the College Board’s PSAT or NMSQT exams in 2015 scored at the grade-level benchmark that indicates they were on track for college and career readiness.
  • Just 16.7 percent of black 10th graders who took the PSAT/NMSQT reached the grade-level benchmark in 2015 while 54.7 of white examinees did so.
  • Only 19.8 percent of Hispanic examinees met the grade-level benchmark while 61.5 of Asian examinees did so.


Advanced Placement (AP)

  • In 2015, 2.5 million students took at least one AP exam compared to 2.3 million a year earlier and 2.0 in 2011.
    • In total, 4.5 million AP exams were administered in 2015 compared to 4.2 million in 2014 and 3.5 million in 2011.
  • As more students took an AP exam more students passed an AP exam as well. The number of students scoring a 3 or higher on at least one AP exam increased from 1.4 million in 2014 to 1.5 million in 2015. In 2011, just 1.2 million students passed at least one AP exam.
    • Minority students less likely to pass at least one AP exam.
      • A third (32.3 percent) of black students who took at least one AP exam scored a 3 or higher compared to 66 percent of white examinees.
      • Half of Hispanic examinees passed at least one AP exam.
      • Nearly three-quarters (72.2 percent) of Asian examinees scored 3 or higher on at least one AP exam.
  • Over a quarter (26.2) of students who took an AP exam were from an underrepresented minority group which is slightly higher than in 2014, when the percentage was 26.0 percent. However, it is a significant increase from the 23.9 percent in 2011.

August 27, 2015

More students graduating high school college-ready according to new ACT report

According to ACT’s The Condition of College & Career Readiness 2015 report released earlier this week, a growing proportion of high school students are graduating from high school college-ready. While overall scores remained flat, more students scored high enough to reach the ACT college-ready benchmarks in each of the test’s four subject areas- English, reading, math, and science. However, just 28 percent of test-takers reached these benchmarks in 2015 but it is still higher than the 23 percent who reached all four benchmarks in 2009. So, while college-readiness rates remain low, they have been trending higher even as more states require all students to take the college entrance exam and more students head to college than ever before. Keep in mind, such dramatic increases in those being tested typically has a dampening effect on scores.

Unlike college-readiness benchmarks, overall scores remained flat between 2014 and 2015. In fact, overall scores have remained between 20.9 and 21.1 for over a decade, with the exception of 2007 when the overall score reached 21.2. However, a closer look at the overall results show that white, black, and Hispanic students all saw increases in their scores over the past year. So, while overall scores have remained flat, the scores of each of the subgroups have improved. This happens because more black and Hispanic students—who score significantly lower ‘on-average’- are taking the ACT while a smaller proportion of white students- who score higher ‘on-average’- are taking the test. As a result, each of the subgroups’ scores increased while the overall score remained flat. This is what statisticians call ‘Simpson’s Paradox’.

While the results are not earth shattering they provide evidence that our high schools are in fact doing a better job preparing students for college. Yes, we all want to see faster improvement but improving nearly 25,000 high schools does not happen overnight. Fortunately, most indicators of the effectiveness of our nation’s high schools show they are heading in the right direction. More students are graduating high school on-time than ever before and more students are getting into and enrolling in college as well. Add the fact that more high school graduates are college-ready paints a pretty clear picture that our nation’s high schools are on the right path.


The Findings

State Scores

  • Of the 30 states where at least half of graduates took the ACT:
    • Minnesota once again achieved the highest composite score with 22.7.
      • However, just 78 percent of Minnesota 2015 graduates took the ACT
    • Graduates from Hawaii posted the lowest scores among states with a score of 18.5.
  • Of the 15 states where at least 90 percent of graduates took the ACT:
    • Colorado and Illinois posted the highest scores at 20.7, followed by North Dakota (20.6).
    • Hawaii (18.5), Mississippi (19.0), and Alabama (19.1) had the lowest scores out of this group.
    • Hawaii posted the greatest gains since 2014, improving by three-tenths of a point.
      • Alabama saw their scores drop by 1.5 points over the past year. However, this is likely due to the fact that the percent of graduates taking the ACT increased from 80 to 100 percent. Such increases typically lead to lower-scores, at least in the short-term.

National Scores

  • The nation’s graduating Class of 2015 had an average composite score of 21.0, the same as in 2014.
    • At this score, an average high school graduate has about a 75 percent chance of getting admitted into a good college.*
  • Scores increased by one-tenth of a point in reading (21.4), English (20.4) and science (20.9) between 2014 and 2015, while scores decreased by one-tenth of a point on the math test (20.8).
  • Scores for black and white students improved.
    • White graduates increased their scores by one-tenth of a point between 2014 and 2015 (22.3 to 22.4).
    • The average black graduate score improved from 17.0 to 17.1 over the past year.
    • As for Hispanic graduates, their scores increased from 18.8 to 18.9 in the past year as well.

College Readiness

  • Twenty-eight percent of 2015 high school graduates were college-ready in all four ACT subject tests (English, reading, math, and science), which is two percentage points higher than in 2014 and five percentage point increase since 2009.
    • Graduates who achieve these benchmarks are ready to succeed in first-year, credit-bearing college courses in the specific subjects ACT tests, according to ACT research. “Success” is defined as a 75% likelihood of earning a ‘C’ or better in the relevant course.
  • Little change in college readiness by subject.
    • The number of graduates reaching ACT’s college-ready benchmark in science increased from 37 to 38 percent over the past year.
    • In math, the number of graduates deemed college-ready decreased by one percent as was the case between 2013 and 2014.
    • In English there was no change in the number of graduates being college-ready but there was a two percentage point increase in reading.

Core Course Rigor

  • Graduates who completed ACT’s recommended core curriculum were much more likely to be college-ready.
    • Two-thirds (67 percent) of graduates who completed ACT’s Core Courses (4 years of English, and 3 years each of math, social studies, and science) met ACT’s college-ready benchmark in English compared to 36 percent of those who did not complete the Core Courses. In reading, 49 percent of graduates who completed the Core Courses met ACT’s college-ready benchmarks for reading compared to 34 percent who did not.
    • There was a much greater disparity when it came to math and science.
      • For those graduates who completed the Core Courses, nearly half (45 percent) were college-ready in math compared to just eight percent who had not.
      • For those graduates who completed the Core Courses, 42 percent were college-ready in science compared to just 18 percent who had not.

Test Takers

  • About 59 percent of all 2015 high graduates took the ACT, compared to 57 percent in 2014 and 45 percent in 2009.
  • More minority graduates are taking the ACT.
    • In 2015, nearly 29 percent of ACT test-takers were Hispanic or black, compared to 24 percent in 2010.
    • Furthermore, the percentage of test-takers who were white decreased between 2010 and 2015, from 62 percent to 55 percent.


For more information on how to use college entrance exam scores to evaluate your school, check out the Center’s Data First Web site.

* Data based on calculations from the Center for Public Education’s Chasing the College Acceptance Letter: Is it harder to get into college

August 20, 2015

Algebra II not just for college goers

“Because colleges require all applicants to take advanced math — at least Algebra II — this is the math standard that all students in the country will now have to meet, requiring mastery of obscure algebraic procedures that the vast majority of adults never use

This belief shared by venture capitalist Tim Dintersmith in his blog post for the Huffington Post about the failures of the Common Core is certainly far from unique. In fact, the belief that advanced math courses such as Algebra II is only needed for those who wish to go on to college is likely shared by a number of educators, policymakers, and parents throughout the country. This is probably due to the fact that, at first glance, such high level math skills are only needed to get into and graduate from college.

But does data actually backup such a belief? Should Algebra II only be relegated to those high school graduates who plan to go onto college? Fortunately, answers to these questions can be found in my recent report Path Least Take II: Preparing non-college goers for success.

What I found will likely come as a surprise to Tim Dintersmith and others who believe that high level math skills are not needed for those who don’t go on to college. In fact, Algebra II is all but essential for those non-college going graduates to succeed in the labor market. By itself, completing Algebra II:

  • Increases the chances non-college goers will:
    • be employed full-time.
    • work for an employer that offers medical insurance.
    • have a retirement fund.
    • earn higher wages.
  • Less likely to:
    • ever be unemployed.
    • be unemployed for more than 6 months
    • be on public assistance.

The positive impacts of Algebra II are amplified when you also consider the fact that many professional certifications or licenses require (slides 39-41) the math skills at least at the level of Algebra II. And the Path Least Taken report shows that obtaining a professional certification or license has the greatest positive impact on whether a non-college enrollee finds success in the labor market after high school.

Of course completing Algebra II in high school doesn’t guarantee a non-college goer will go on to to get a good job or that a non-college goer who fails to complete Algebra II will be destined for career failure. However, preparing students to complete higher level math courses such as Algebra II should not be reserved only for those students who plan on attending college. Our high schools should ensure all students complete at least Algebra II as well as higher level courses in English, science, and social studies, among others, to maximize all students’ chances for a good job. – Jim Hull

Filed under: Career Readiness,college,Common Core,Course taking,CPE,High school — Jim Hull @ 1:27 pm

August 14, 2015

Employment gaps not just achievement gaps

It isn’t a secret that, on-average, traditionally disadvantaged students such as poor and minority students have lower achievement than traditionally more advantaged students. Such differences are referred to as the “achievement gap’ which has been the driver of education policy over the past couple of decades. In fact, identifying achievement gaps has been critical in the improved performance of our poor and minority students during this time period. The same is true when it comes to “attainment gaps,” whereas poor and minority students graduate high school at a lower rate than their white classmates. Again, the identification of this gap and the focus policymakers and educators have put on narrowing it has led to a remarkable narrowing of attainment gaps in just the past decade alone. Such progress is certainly great news but unquestionably more work is needed to close both the achievement and attainment gaps completely.

Yet, gaps not only exist while students are in school. They remain well beyond high school, too. My report The Path Least Take Part 2 identified one. My analysis showed that even if achievement and attainment gaps closed in high school, poor and minority students who didn’t go onto college would still be less likely to get a good job than their more advantaged, non-college going peers. The gap between black and white non-college goers who earned similar credentials was particularly wide. Non_college goer Chart_3For example, black non-college goers who earned low-credentials were 20 percentage points less likely to be employed full-time at age 26 than similarly credentialed white non-college goers. However, the gap is cut in half when both black and white non-college goers earned high-credentials. Similar results were found when looking at other indicators of having a career success such as if they had ever been unemployed or if their most current employer offered medical insurance.

My report shows that earning high credentials — including completing high level math and science courses, earning good grades, and obtaining a job skill — are essential for future career success for poor and minority non-college goers. Without this preparation, traditionally disadvantaged high school graduates who don’t go onto college have much less of a chance of career success than their more advantaged classmates. So it is imperative that all non-college goers, but especially poor and minority non-college goers, receive the preparation and skills they need so the employment gap will close. –Jim Hull

Filed under: Achievement Gaps,Career Readiness,Course taking,High school — Jim Hull @ 3:59 pm

July 29, 2015

Traveling the path least taken successfully requires preparation

Nearly two-thirds of employers believe that our public schools are not adequately preparing recent high school graduates for the workforce, according to a new survey from our friends over at Achieve. However, this percentage would likely drop significantly if recent high school graduates were properly prepared in high school, according to CPE’s most recent report The Path Least Taken: Preparing non-college goers for success.

While much of the rhetoric surrounding education reform has centered on the phrase ‘college and career ready,’ much of the discussion and policies have focused on the former rather than the latter. So CPE decided to take a closer look at what high schools could do to prepare their graduates who don’t go onto college for success after high school. Not surprisingly we found that on-average high school graduates who go onto college are more likely to see success in terms of getting a good job than their fellow graduates who never attended college. Yet, when we took a closer look at the preparation non-college goers received in high school and beyond, a much different picture emerged. A picture that showed non-college goers were more likely to find career success if they were properly prepared in high school.

CPE_Graphic_PLTIIBut what does a proper high school preparation look like? And how does it impact the chances for success of non-college goers? Those are the questions we focused on answering in our latest report. And what we found was that the preparation non-college goers needed to be ‘career ready’ didn’t differ much from what research has typically found for graduates to be ‘college ready’.

Both college and non-college goers need to complete a rigorous high school curriculum that includes high level math and science courses and earn a Grade Point Average (GPA) of at least a C-plus. But non-college goers are even more successful at getting a good job if they had also completed at least three vocational courses in a specific labor market area—called an occupational concentration.

If non-college goers also went on to earn a professional certification or license their chances of getting a good job by age 26 equaled or surpassed that of the typical college goer on most indicators of career success examined in this report.

For example, a well-prepared college goer who completed Algebra 2, Advanced Biology, earned a 2.5 GPA, completed an occupational concentration and obtained a professional certification or license, they earned $19.71 per hour by age 26, as opposed to the $16.71 per hour that the average college goer earned at the same age. This equates to a more than $6000 per year difference for a full-time job, which is nothing to scoff at.

What this report shows is that, yes, on-average going to college provides the greatest chance for success for most high school graduates. Yet, it also shows that a high school graduate doesn’t need to go to college to obtain success in the labor market. But for non-college goers to have the same chances of success as their college going classmates it is imperative they receive the proper preparation in high school.

Unfortunately, as was found in Part I of our Path Least Taken reports only a small proportion of non-college goers receive such a preparation. So if more non-college goers received such a preparation we’d certainly see more employers say our public schools are adequately preparing graduates for the workforce. It won’t happen overnight but preparing more of our non-college goers for success after high school can be done now that we have a better idea how. –Jim Hull

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