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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
Public school parents and the public at large are skeptical of the Common Core State Standards (Common Core) and the usefulness of standardized testing, according to The 47th Annual PDK/Gallup Poll of The Public Attitudes Toward The Public Schools released this week. The annual poll also found that while parents like to have a choice on where to send their child to school, they oppose the use of public dollars to send students to private schools in the form of vouchers.
The poll’s findings show the general public, as well as, parents of public school children value other measures of school effectiveness beyond standardized tests. However, the results should not be seen as a total indictment of standardized tests, as results show the public is just as skeptical about allowing students to opt-out of standardized tests. This aligns with the results of the most recent Education Next poll which found the majority of the public supportive of the federal requirement to test students annually in math and reading. So, while the public may be getting weary of standardized testing, there is little support for their abolishment, especially among black and Hispanics. However, the public clearly feels that schools should be judged by more than test scores.
- The public places a much higher importance on student engagement over standardized tests.
- Nationally, 78 percent of respondents rated student engagement as ‘very important’ when it came to measuring the effectiveness of public schools in their community.
- On the other hand, just 14 percent of respondents rated standardized tests as ‘very important,’ making it the lowest-rated measure included in the survey.
- Scores from standardized tests were the lowest rated approach of the choices given in the poll to providing the most accurate picture of a public school’s academic progress.
- The public preferred examples of student work (38 percent), written observations by teachers (26 percent), and grades awarded by the teacher (21 percent) over scores from standardized tests (16 percent)
- However, black respondents favored scores from standardized tests more than white respondents (19 v 15 percent).
- Most believe there is too much emphasis on standardized tests.
- Two-thirds of public school parents feel there is too much emphasis on testing while just 19 percent feel there is just the right amount of emphasis on testing.
- However, black respondents were less likely to say there is too much emphasis on testing than white respondents (57 v 65 percent).
- Respondents are split on whether to allow parents to ‘opt-out’ their child from standardized tests.
- Just 41 percent of parents believed they should be allowed to excuse their child from tests while 44 believed such an option shouldn’t be allowed.
- Yet, just 28 percent of black respondents believed parents should be able to excuse their child from standardized tests compared to 44 percent of white respondents.
- Few students complain about taking too many standardized tests.
- Just 16 percent of public school parents ‘strongly agreed’ that their child complains about taking too many standardized tests.
- Most public school parents don’t believe it is important to know how students in their community’s schools perform on standardized tests compared to students in other districts, states, or countries.
- Just 18 percent of respondents said they believed it was important to compare test schools from their community’s schools to those in other districts or states.
- A greater percentage (24 percent) did say it was important to compare test schools with students from other countries.
- Few public school parents feel achievement standards are too low in their community.
- A third of public school parents feel student achievement standards are too low compared to 12 percent who feel they are too high.
- Nearly half (48 percent) believe achievement standards are just about right.
- Majority of parents oppose having teachers in their community use the Common Core standards to guide what they teach.
- 54 percent of parents oppose the use of Common Core compared to just 25 percent who are in favor.
- Most Republicans (69 percent) oppose the use of the standards while Democrats (38 percent) feel the same. Half of Independents also oppose the use of the Common Core.
- Blacks are less likely to oppose the use of the Common Core compared to whites (35 v 57 percent).
- Few have heard a great deal about the Common Core.
- Less than a quarter (22 percent) of respondents have heard a great deal about the Common Core although the percentage increases to 30 percent for public school parents.
- Republicans (25 percent) are more likely to say they have heard about the Common Core than Democrats (19 percent) or Independents (22 percent).
Opinions about Public Schools
- Local public schools receive high marks.
- 70 percent of public school parents give the school their oldest child attends an A or B, while 57 percent gave the same grades to all public schools in their community.
- However, just 19 percent of public school parents would give schools nationally an A or B.
- The public sees funding as a major tool to improving public schools.
- Nearly a quarter (23 percent) of respondents listed lack of financial support as the biggest problem facing public schools. Standards/quality of education came in second with just 7 percent.
- Nearly half (45 percent) of respondents believe that how much money schools spend is important to improving public schools in their community.
- Most respondents favor public school choice programs.
- 64 percent of respondents favor charter schools and intra-district school choice programs.
- Most respondents oppose vouchers
- Just 31 percent of respondents favor allowing parents to choose a private school to attend at public expense.
- Republicans are split on this issue (46 percent opposed and 46 in favor) while Democrats are thoroughly opposed (71 percent opposed to 16 percent in favor). The majority of independents are also oppose (63 percent).
Last fall, we introduced the first installment of a series that examined the characteristics and outcomes of high school graduates who don’t go on to college.
We called it The Path Least Taken because, much to our surprise, the percentage of students who had not advanced to college by the time they turned 26 was remarkably small.
But more than just identifying which students had and hadn’t gone on to college, we wanted to know which of those non-college going students found “success” in spite of taking the road less traveled. And further, how high school had prepared them to achieve similar if not better outcomes than their college-going peers.
Jim Hull, CPE’s senior policy analyst, sifted through A LOT of data from NCES’ Educational Longitudinal Study of 2002 to answer these questions and more. Read what he discovered in our second installment of The Path Least Taken.
EdWeek’s annual Diplomas Count report shows that the U.S. high school on-time graduation rate has hit another all-time high with 81 percent of students graduating within four-years of entering high school. You may remember last month another report found the same. Both reports were based on similar data so it is not surprising they found similar results.
One difference is that this most recent report sheds a brighter light on disparities between different groups of students. An examination of EdWeek’s data shows that in 2013—the most recent year graduation rate data is available—the poverty gap in on-time graduation rates is as large as 16 percentage points in Minnesota to just one percentage point in Kentucky. Nationally, the gap between white students and their black and Hispanic classmates continues to narrow. Again, the gaps differ significantly from state to state.
While the overall story is certainly good news, the persistent gaps are still troubling. Gaps are particularly large between special education students and the general student population as well as between English Language Learners (ELL) and native English speakers. So while significant progress has been made, there is a lot more work to be done until all students enter high school with a similar chance to graduate high school four years later.
National Graduation Rates
- The national graduation rate hit another all-time high.
- Eighty-one percent of students who entered 9th grade in the fall of 2009 graduated with at least a standard high school diploma by the summer of 2013 — the highest level seen since the late 1960s.
- Between 2011 and 2013 the graduation rate increased 2 points.
- Graduation rates had remained relatively stagnant between the late 1960s and early 2000’s.
- Large attainment gaps also remain between traditionally disadvantaged groups and their more advantaged classmates.
- 16 point gap between white and black students (71 and 87 percent).
- 12 point gap between white and Hispanic students (75 and 87 percent).
- Seventy-three percent of students from economically disadvantaged families graduated on-time.
- This is 8 points lower than the national average.
- Just 62 percent of Students with Disabilities graduated on-time.
- This is 19 points lower than the national average.
- Only 61 percent of Limited English Proficient students graduated on-time.
- This is 20 points lower than the national average.
State Graduation Rates
- Most states have improved their graduation rates since 2011.
- All but six states (Arizona, Illinois, New York, South Dakota, Tennessee, and Wyoming) improved their on-time graduation rates between 2011 and 2013.
- Nevada made the greatest improvement by increasing their graduation rate from 62 to 71 percent (9 points) during this same time period.
- New Mexico and Utah both improved their graduation rates by 7 points as well.
- Large gaps remain between states
- There is a 28 percentage point gap between Iowa –the state with the highest graduation rate (90 percent)– and the District of Columbia which has the lowest graduation rate (62 percent).
- Only seven states (Alaska, District of Columbia, Georgia, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, and Oregon) have graduation rates that fell under 75 percent while 21 states have graduation rates of at least 85 percent.
- In Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota there is a 15 point gap between the graduation rates of economically disadvantaged students and their state averages.
- In six states (Texas, Arkansas, Kentucky, Hawaii, Indiana, and District of Columbia) the gap is 5 points or less.
- In Mississippi just 23 percent of Students with Disabilities (SWD) graduated on-time which is 53 points lower than the state average (76 percent). Mississippi had both the lowest graduation rates for SWD and the largest gap.
- On the other end of the spectrum Arkansas had the highest graduation rate for SWK (80 percent) while Alabama had the smallest gap (3 points).
- Three states (New Hampshire, North Dakota, and Texas) had graduation rates over 80 percent for black students.
- Three states (Minnesota, Nevada, and Oregon) had graduation rates of less than 60 percent for their black students.
- Eleven states graduated at least 80 percent of their Hispanic students on-time.
- Minnesota was the only state to graduate less than 60 percent of their Hispanic students.
Large gaps in proficiency rates still exist between state and national tests according to a new report by Achieve, Inc. It has been known for several years that more students reach the proficiency benchmark on their state assessment than on the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP), and that gap remains today. In fact, proficiency rates on most state assessments are 30 percentage points higher than they are on NAEP. What this means is that if one of these states reported 80 percent of their students reached the proficiency benchmark on their state assessment, than just 50 percent likely reached it on NAEP.
In some states the gap was even larger. In Georgia, for example, the difference was 60 percentage points in 4th grade reading which was the largest difference in the country. In this case 94 percent of 4th graders were deemed proficient on the Georgia state assessment while just 34 percent reached the proficiency level on NAEP. Georgia wasn’t alone. Louisiana, Alaska, and Arkansas all had gaps of at least 50 percentage points. Similar results were found in 8th grade math as well.
However, there were states with small if any gaps. In fact, in New York more students were deemed proficient on NAEP than on the state assessment in both 4th grade reading and 8th grade math. The report also singled out a dozen or so states that had similar proficiency rates on their state assessments as on NAEP, or as the report called them the “Top Truth Tellers.”
The results aren’t entirely surprising. The Achieve report is based on results from the 2013-14 state assessments when nearly all states were still using older tests. Most states will be giving new Common Core aligned tests for the first time this year which will likely lead to lower proficiency rates as was seen in Kentucky and New York — states that have been administering Common Core aligned assessments for a couple years already. What will be interesting is how this analysis will look a year from now when state scores are based on more rigorous Common Core aligned assessments. I’m guessing the Common Core states will see their scores more aligned with NAEP while those who don’t will still have significant gaps. The question remains, will there be more pushback in states with lower proficiency rates or in those with larger gaps? I guess we will have to wait until next year to find out.—Jim Hull