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August 21, 2013

Good news, bad news from latest ACT results

ACT results for the Class of 2013 were released today and despite the drop in overall scores, more high school graduates are prepared for college. The decline in scores may be due to the fact for the first time ACT is including students who required accommodations, such as more time to take test, in the overall results as well as the fact that there as a dramatic increase in test-takers because both groups likely consist of a number of lower-performing students.

With that in mind, although scores declined it is important to point out that the percent of graduates considered “college ready” in all four subjects increased, and has been increasing for several years even though many more traditionally disadvantaged graduates are now taking the ACT. This shows our high schools are graduating more students ready to succeed in college.

But the results also show that progress has been slow and uneven between subgroups, requiring schools to double and even triple their efforts in making sure all students are adequately prepared for college-level work. To do so, high schools need to ensure that all students are taking the courses they need to succeed in college. Unfortunately, as CPE’s latest report Out of Sync found, most states do not require the courses students need to succeed in college for students to earn a high school diploma. As more graduates plan on enrolling in college, it is more important than ever that a high school diploma represent a student who is ready for higher education, whether it as a two-year or four-year institution. – Jim Hull

Below is summary of the major findings from the 2013 ACT report

National Scores

  • The nation’s graduating Class of 2013 had an average composite score of 20.9, which was a decrease from the 21.1 from both 2012 and 2009.
    • At this score, an average high school graduate has about a 72 percent chance of getting admitted into a good college.*
  • Scores decreased by two-tenths of a point on the reading (21.1), math (20.9) and science (20.7) tests between 2012 and 2013, while scores on the English (20.2) test declined by three-tenths of a point.
  • Scores declined for every ethnic/racial group.
    • White graduates saw a decrease of two-tenths of a point between 2012 and 2013 (22.4 to 22.2).
    • The average black graduate score was 16.9.0 in 2013, which was one-tenth lower than in 2012 but the same as in 2009.
    • The average Hispanic graduate score was 18.8 in 2013, which was a tenth of point lower than in 2012 but a tenth of a point higher than in 2009.

State Scores

  • Of the 31 states where at least 40 percent of graduates took the ACT:
    • Minnesota achieved the highest composite score of 23.0.
      • 74 percent of Minnesota graduates took the ACT
    • Idaho, Iowa, and Wisconsin had the next highest scores of 22.1 apiece.
  • Of the nine states where 100 percent of graduates took the ACT:
    • Utah had the highest score at 20.7, followed by Illinois (20.6) and Colorado (20.4).
    • Tennessee (19.5), Louisiana (19.5), and North Carolina (18.7) had the lowest scores out of this group.

College Readiness

  • Twenty-six percent of 2013 high school graduates were college ready in all four ACT subject tests (English, Reading, Math, and Science), which is one percentage point increase from 2012 and a 3 percentage point increase from 2009.
    • Of the 31 states that had at least 40 percent of their graduates take the ACT, Minnesota and Michigan were the only state where more than 50 percent of their graduates were college ready in at least three of four subjects.
    • Less than 30 percent of graduates in, Kentucky, Louisiana, North Carolina, Mississippi, & Tennessee were college ready in three of four subjects.
    • 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.
  • Black and Hispanic graduates are less likely to be college ready than their white peers.
    • The percent of black graduates meeting all four benchmarks remained at 5 percent between 2012 and 2013 while the percent of Hispanic students increased from 13 to 14 percent.
    • However, these percentages are much lower than the 33 percent of white graduates who met all four benchmarks in 2013 which is up from 32 percent in 2012.
  • Between 2012 and 2013, the percentage of graduates who scored at or above the ACT College Readiness Benchmarks increased from 31 percent to 36 percent in science, but declined in the other three subject areas.
    • Over the same time period there was an eight percentage point drop in the proportion of graduates who were college-ready in reading (52 to 44 percent), a three percentage point drop in English (67 to 64 percent) and a two percentage point drop in math (46 to 44 percent).

Core Course Rigor

  • Seventy-four percent of ACT test-takers completed the recommended “core” college-preparatory curriculum, which is down from 76 percent in 2012 but still significantly higher than the 70 percent in 2009.
  • High school graduates who completed a core curriculum earned composite test scores 2.7 to 3.1 points higher than graduates who did not complete a core curriculum.
    • A three point increase in an ACT score for an average graduate increases his or her chances of getting admitted into a good college from 72 percent to 81 percent.*
  • Black and Hispanic graduates were less likely to have completed a core curriculum than white graduates.
    • While 76 percent of white graduates complete a core curriculum, just 69 percent of black graduates and 72 percent of Hispanic graduates did so.

Test Takers

  • About 54 percent of all 2013 high graduates took the ACT, compared to 52 percent in 2012 and 45 percent in 2009.
  • More minority graduates are taking the ACT.
    • In 2013, nearly 28 percent of ACT test-takers were Hispanic or black, compared to 22 percent in 2009.
    • Furthermore, the percentage of test-takers who were white decreased between 2009 and 2013, from 64 percent to 58 percent.

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

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

May 2, 2013

Improve college attainment rates: Invest in high school guidance counselors

A recent study by Caroline Hoxby and Christopher Avery hasn’t gotten a lot of media attention but is a must read. In fact, I just became aware of the study myself even though it was issued as a working paper by the National Bureau of Economic Research back in December. Policymakers, educators, parents, and the general public should be made aware of this study because it has broad implications for narrowing gaps between low and higher income students.

What did the study find that was so important? It found that low-income high achieving students were less likely to not just attend a selective college but even apply to one as similar achieving higher income students. Instead, low-income high achieving students tend to attend non-selective two- or four-year colleges that have significantly lower instructional resources and graduation rates.

Why is this so important?  Too few low-income students go on to obtain a college degree. If more low-income students applied to more selective colleges that have greater instructional resources and higher graduations rates the college degree attainment gap between low- and high-income students would narrow. In the long-term the U.S. would likely climb up the international college graduation rate rankings as well.

You might be thinking low-income students may not attend more selective colleges because they cost more. This may be true if you compared sticker prices but the study found that if you take into account the difference in financial aid packages, many selective colleges would cost low-income students less than the non-selective colleges they wound up attending.

However, this isn’t likely to be common knowledge for many low –income students as many are the first in their families to attend college. This is why adults in their high schools need to help educate these students and their families about the college going process, particularly for those qualified to attend a selective college. Yet, when the national student to guidance counselor average is 350 to 1—likely much higher in many high poverty urban districts—it is nearly impossible for guidance counselors to find the time to ensure low-income high achieving students apply to selective schools.

This study provides more evidence of the importance of high school guidance counselors. As CPE found in our High School Rigor and Good Advice report last year, those students who meet regularly with counselors about college are more likely to succeed in college. The same report also found that those students who took more rigorous courses in high school were more likely to succeed in college as well. So, guidance counselors not only help low-income high achieving students by educating them about the college going process but by ensuring students take the rigorous courses they need to succeed in college.

Yes, getting more low-income students to complete a rigorous high school curriculum will increase the chances those students will attend and succeed in college. But this study shows that academic preparation can only go so far. If schools invest more in educating low-income students on the college going process by hiring more guidance counselors that will ensure students take rigorous courses and apply to higher quality colleges. Then the U.S. will likely see the college degree gap between low- and high-income students narrow and see the U.S. rise in the international college attainment rankings. – Jim Hull

February 22, 2013

Business buys into the common core

Maybe it’s because schools are now taking a hard look at them, maybe it’s because the countdown to common core test day looms large, but it feels like the common core standards just can’t get any love anymore. In a strange alliance of purpose, critics from both the right  and the left  are calling on states and educators to reject them, albeit, for different reasons.

Much of the criticism rests on the politics. Even though the nation’s governors and state school superintendents led the development of the CCSS, some see a heavy federal hand in getting states to adopt them through provisions in Race to the Top and NCLB waivers that ask states to have “college and career-ready” standards.  But other voices are criticizing the content of the standards themselves as either too weak or too narrow, as we have written here and here.

This week, a coalition of 72 business leaders, representing such major corporations as GE, Exxon Mobil, and State Farm, provided a counterbalance by offering their considerable voice in support of the common core. In a full-page New York Times ad (by way of Change the Equation,which boasts 42 signatories), the CEOs endorsed the standards as “meet[ing] the business community’s expectations: they are college- and career-ready, grounded in evidence and internationally benchmarked. The CCSS set consistent, focused, rigorous academic expectations for all students.”

They conclude:

We support these new, tougher academic standards that are currently being rolled out in classrooms across the country. These standards will better prepare students for college and the workplace, something of critical importance to the nation’s employers. The changes now under way in America’s schools hold great promise for creating a more highly skilled workforce that is better equipped to meet the needs of local, state and national economies.

We see a lot to admire in the content of the CCSS as well as in the state-driven process that produced them. But the proof will be in the implementation, and the capacity of school districts to provide the support and resources teachers will need to teach them. So stay tuned.

January 4, 2013

Singing our song

Fareed Zakaria is calling for a “growth” agenda for the nation’s economic health, one that recognizes the importance of developing our human capital.  Writing in this morning’s Washington Post, Zakaria acknowledges the urgency — and difficulty — of getting our fiscal  house in order, yet argues that our “deeper challenge” may well be finding the collective will to invest in our infrastructure.

Zakaria is singing our song, especially when he highlights our need to invest in education. And indeed, to make the point he quotes from Jim Hull’s recent analysis on international college completions. As Jim points out, our young adults are being surpassed by their peers in other countries in college attainment, but a focus on two-year degrees will go a long way toward improving our standing and give a real boost to the economy.

You can learn more about the role for high schools in improving post-secondary completions by checking out CPE’s high school toolkit.–Patte Barth

Filed under: college,High school — Tags: , , — Patte Barth @ 11:54 am

December 13, 2012

Catching up is hard to do

NCLB called on public schools to close achievement gaps, and that focus is one thing that’s not likely to change whenever Congress gets around to reauthorizing ESEA. However, a new study by ACT shows how long the odds are for low-achieving 4th and 8th graders to eventually graduate college-ready, which should make us think about how to go about gap closing.

ACT has once again mined its considerable databases to track the progress of students as they moved from 4th to 12th grades in order to find out how many ended up “college ready.”  ACT grouped students by three achievement levels: on track to college-readiness, off track, and far off track. Here’s what they found about 8th graders’ chances:

This table means that only 10 percent of students who were far off track in 8th grade were college ready in reading by 12th grade. The analysts further found that African American and Hispanic 8th graders were twice as likely to be “far off track” than their white classmates.  Similar patterns were evident among 4th graders, too.

If there’s a silver lining in this news, it’s this: “Far off” students who attended the top 10 percent of schools were about three times as likely to become college-ready.  In reading, for example, 28 percent of “far off” 8th graders in the top schools had become college-ready by the time they were seniors compared to the overall average of 10 percent.

This shows us that there are things schools can do to reverse the downward trajectory of low achievement. At the same time, though, it underscores how hard it is to break these trends after 4th grade. As if we still needed another argument for starting early with high-quality pre-k, ACT has surely given us one.  But they also provide evidence for never giving up on kids and their capacity to learn to high levels, even in high school.

A note on methodology: ACT’s college-ready benchmark is the score at which students have a 75 percent chance of earning a C or better and a 50 percent chance of earning a B or better in the relevant college freshman course.   Their database has data for students in a half dozen states who take the ACT series of aligned tests at 4th, 8th and end of high school. You can find their report “Catching up to college and career readiness” — and I encourage you to do so — at www.act.org.

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