University of Arkansas Office for Education Policy

Grade 11 ACT Scores

In The View from the OEP on September 29, 2021 at 11:06 am

This week we are digging into the grade 11 ACT scores from last spring. Statewide, scores dropped from 2019, which is similar to what we saw with the ACT Aspire scores for students in grades 3-10. 2020-21 was the fifth year that all Arkansas public school juniors were given the opportunity to take the ACT at their home school, during a regular school day, for free.

Arkansas is one of a small but growing number of states (currently 20) that offer all students free and accessible opportunities to sit for College Entrance Exams.  Although some colleges are moving away from requiring scores from such tests, the ACT is still a meaningful test for students and schools.  It is meaningful for students because it is still required to obtain scholarships like the Arkansas Academic Challenge (aka the lottery scholarship) as well as the Governor’s Scholarship which provide up to $14,000 and $40,000, respectively.  The ACT is also meaningful for schools because it is a part of how school quality is being measured in Arkansas.

In 2020, the average composite ACT score statewide declined 0.4 points (about 2%) from 2019 scores, after holding fairly constant since universal testing began in 2015-16. For reference, the national average ACT score is between 20 and 21. As presented below, the decline was evident across Black, Hispanic, and White students.

Average ACT Composite Score, by Race/Ethnicity, 2015-16 to 2020-21

There was variation among the subject tests in changes from 2019. In English, Black students held steady while White and Hispanic students declined slightly (-0.2 and -0.3 points, respectively). In reading, all student groups declined: Black -0.1, White -0.3, and Hispanic -0.5. In science, Black student gained 0.5 points, while other student groups held steady. In math, presented below, Hispanic students declined 0.4 points from the 2019 average, while Black students declined 0.1 and White students increased by 0.1.

Average ACT Mathematics Score, by Race/Ethnicity, 2018-19 and 2020-21

Another way that ACT scores are reported is the percentage of students that meet ACT Readiness Benchmarks. Students meeting these Benchmarks have a 50% chance of getting a “B” in a college class and a 75% change of getting a “C”. Only 12% of Arkansas 11th graders met the Readiness Benchmarks in all four content areas. The biggest decline in Readiness was in mathematics, where students were 5 percentage points less likely to meet the Benchmark than their peers 6 years ago.

Percentage of Arkansas Students Meeting ACT Readiness Benchmarks, 2015-16 to 2020-21

There are substantial differences in the likelihood of students meeting Readiness Benchmarks by demographic characteristics. For context, the table below compares Arkansas to the US in the percentage of student meeting the benchmarks in all four subject areas.

AR % US %
All Students1226
Black26
White1733
Hispanic614

Administering the ACT to all juniors is wonderful policy, but just testing them doesn’t help them learn. Here at OEP, we wonder what schools are doing to help students demonstrate their learning on the ACT? Although Arkansas’s high school graduation rates are among the best in the country, the data from the ACT makes us wonder if we are really preparing Arkansas students for success after high school.

We’ve posted the data on our website and included change in scores so you can dig into it yourself and see how the students in your school or community score on this important assessment.

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