University of Arkansas Office for Education Policy

ACT the sequel: some key points missing

In The View from the OEP on August 23, 2017 at 12:51 pm

ACT logo

How did Arkansas students score on the ACT last spring? Were a higher percentage of 11th graders found to be ‘college-ready’?

Nope.

Statewide scores didn’t change much, but some districts saw big gains in ACT scores this year. We posted the 2017 ACT results by school and district here, and calculated a change from prior year so you can see if your school/district has improved on this important outcome measure.

Last spring, over 31,000 high school juniors completed the ACT, a measure of college readiness used by colleges throughout the nation.  This is the second year that Arkansas students have been able to take the test for free (it is normally $42.50), which provides us the first opportunity to compare the scores to the prior year.  Like ACT, we recommend looking at a longer trend, but prior to 2015-16 only about a quarter of Arkansas juniors elected to take the ACT so it doesn’t make good sense to compare to earlier years.

ACT measures achievement in English, Reading, Math, and Science and is scored on a scale of 1 to 36. Students who score below 19 are ineligible for the Academic Challenge Scholarship and are typically placed in remedial courses in college. As can be seen in Table 1, the English score increased in 2016-17, but the average score for Arkansas’ juniors was below 19 in all four subject areas and for the composite.

Table 1: Average ACT Scores for Arkansas 11th Graders, by Subject and Year.

 

English

Mathematics

Reading

Science

Composite

2015-16

18.1

18.6

19.0

19.1

18.8

2016-17

18.4

18.5

18.9

18.9

18.8

 

Although Arkansas’ post-secondary institutions have generally used ’19’ as the indicator of readiness for college, ACT has developed a more nuanced approach by following actual students and their success in college. ACT College Readiness Benchmarks are the minimum ACT score indicating students have a 50% chance of earning a B or better in the college course. These Readiness Benchmarks vary by subject area as indicated in the table below.  The lowest Benchmark is in English (18) and 49% of Arkansas’ juniors met that benchmark. Thirty percent met the Benchmark of 22 for Reading, and fewer than 1 in 4 (24%) met the Benchmark of 22 in math.  At 23, the score needed to meet the Benchmark in Science was the highest, and the least likely for Arkansas students to meet; only 22% of students are college-ready in science.

Table 2: Percentage of Arkansas 11th Graders Meeting ACT College Readiness Benchmark Scores, by Subject and Year.

 

English    (18)

Mathematics (22)

Reading (22)

Science (23)

All 4

% met in 2015-16

49

25

31

24

14

% met in 2016-17

49

24

30

22

14

 

The average scores and the percentage of students meeting ACT College Readiness Benchmarks are essentially unchanged from last year. Like ACT, we recommend looking at a longer trend, but prior to 2015-16 only about a quarter of Arkansas juniors elected to take the ACT so we don’t think it makes sense to compare further back.

This year also marks the first time we have had consistent historical assessment data for our 11th graders, because they were the first group of students to complete the ACT Aspire in 10th grade. We wondered how the earlier scores stacked up against the actual ACT, so we compared the percentage of students meeting or exceeding benchmarks when they were in 10th grade (on the ACT Aspire) with the percentage meeting or exceeding in 11th grade (on the ACT).  Although these are not matched at the student level and so may include some different students each year, the results are fairly consistent. As you can see below, however, students were somewhat more likely to meet readiness expectations on the ACT Aspire than on the actual ACT.

Table 3: Percentage of Arkansas 11th Graders Meeting Readiness Benchmark Scores, as 10th and 11th graders, by Subject and Year.

 Assessment  Grade

English

Mathematics

Reading

Science

ACT Aspire (2015-16) Grade 10

56

29

34

29

ACT    (2016-17) Grade 11

49

24

30

22

 


So What?

Most 11th grade students indicated that they wanted to continue their education after high school.  Sixty (60) percent indicated they wanted to pursue at least a Bachelor’s degree, while 10% indicated they were going to attend a 2-year college or pursue a vocational/ technical degree.  While we don’t think any one assessment tells the whole picture of a kid, a student’s ACT score is currently tied to all sorts of significant outcomes including college acceptance, college scholarships, NCAA eligibility, and well as being an indicator of workplace readiness.  Most kids aspire to continuing their education after high school, but the majority are not prepared.

 

Now What?

Compare your scores to schools that serve similar populations- how do your students stack up?  Increasing student ACT scores is good for students, and some districts saw double-digit gains in the percentage of students who met readiness benchmarks.  Compare your scores to schools that serve similar populations- how do your students stack up?  What can you do to support your students in achieving this goal? We have some recommendations for educators, parents, and students to help.

Now that we have a consistent assessment system that is connected to the ACT, teachers and school leaders should carefully examine the ACT Aspire data for their students this year and determine what skills they are missing and how to give them the information they need to get on track for success. Students are central to this discussion!  Help them understand what the ACT Aspire score means and what they can do to help themselves! Parents also need to understand- in our blog last week we mentioned that the majority of parents hoped their students would og to college and they need good information to understand if their student is on the right path.

For high school students: We pointed out that the 10th grade ACT Aspire results are pretty indicative of student performance on the ACT and that students were least likely to meet Readiness Benchmarks in math, science, and reading.  There are lots of resources that schools should be letting students know about, and many are FREE for students who are eligible for Free/Reduced Lunch.

  1. Don’t take the ACT just one time!  Students who are eligible for Free/Reduced Lunch can get up to two fee waivers  from ACT students may use a maximum of two separate ACT Fee Waivers. If a students isn’t eligible- they should still sign up for the ACT at least once before the junior year test. Test dates are about once a month and are listed here.
  2. Do timed practice! Understanding the format of the test and being familiar with how the timing feels can help students use time available to demonstrate their knowledge.
  3. Use available resources! Check out ACT Online Prep and ACT Kaplan Online Prep Live.  Students who receive a fee waiver for the ACT can get either of these for free for a year. Students can access the program online, and progress can be tracked at an individual or aggregate level including time spent on the program, performance on the practice questions and tests, and areas in which an entire class may need help teachers can assign work in ACT Online Prep for students to complete as part of test prep within a classroom or as learning enhancement.  The “live” version includes access to live instructors who teach the material and are available for questions. Schools that are at least 50% FRL get 50% off the per-student price.

 

What’s missing?

Here at OEP we are a little concerned about the accuracy of the ACT data reports due to students not reporting information and to ACT reports not linking to all high schools.

Part of the information shared by ACT is student-reported information, but an increasing percentage of Arkansas students did not complete this information in 2016-17.  When asked about post-secondary educational aspirations, 30% did not respond to the question- which was double the rate of non-response from last year.  We also noticed a 10 percentage point decrease in the percentage of students identified as taking the “Core or More” curriculum. Students who complete the “Core or more” preparation perform better on the ACT and since it is essentially Arkansas’ Smart Core, (4+ English, 3+ Math, 3+ Social Studies, and 3+ natural science) we were surprised to see the percentage drop so significantly from 67 to 57 percent.  Turns out, this drop was due to 35% of students who did not respond about what courses they had taken. When students don’t provide complete information, the resulting reports can be misinterpreted and lead.  We hope that schools and the ADE will examine the pattern of non-responses and put a plan in place so that ACT can provide the most accurate information to inform Arkansas policy.

ACT uses a different process that the ADE to link student scores to their high school.  We noticed that Bentonville’s new high school was not included in the summary report for Bentonville School District, which could impact the district-level results.  While this is not a huge deal (except maybe for Bentonville!)  the completeness and accuracy of ACT data becomes more important for schools as several pieces will be used as a school success indicator in Arkansas ESSA plan- which we will delve into more next week.

We are interested in your thoughts about the latest ACT results- please leave a comment or a question!

 

 

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