2016 ACT shows Kentucky’s achievement gaps slowly getting worse or staying stagnant

The ACT scores for 2016 high school graduates were released today.

Thanks to heightened interest in the state’s achievement gap issues due to Common Core (see here, here and here for some examples), I decided to look at the trends in white minus black achievement gaps on this college-entrance test first.

This table summarizes what has happened to Kentucky’s white minus black ACT achievement gaps between 2013, the first year that ACT revised the way it reports score results, and the latest 2016 graduates’ results.

Gap Changes 2013 to 2016 Summary Table

At best, there has not been any progress in reducing the gaps since ACT, Inc. changed its reporting format.

In fact, with gaps unchanged in three areas but actually increasing slightly in English and science, I think it’s fair to say that Kentucky’s largest minority student group experienced a slight achievement gap decay during the past three years.

More details on the gaps situation and Kentucky’s actual white and black ACT scores from 2013 to 2016 along with comments from Kentucky Commissioner of Education Stephen Pruitt, are available by clicking on the “Read more” link to see those subject-by-subject breakdowns.

This first graph shows Kentucky’s trends in white and black English scale score results from the ACT between 2013 and 2016.

English Gaps By Year

As you can see, scores for both whites and blacks have risen, but they increased more for whites. Thus, our leading racial minority in Kentucky is now a bit farther behind in English than it was three years ago.

The ACT math results show a more disturbing trend in scores.

Math Gaps by Year

Kentucky’s 2016 white math score actually declined a bit from the previous year and only equaled the 2014 results.

Meanwhile, the black score has stayed flat for the past three years. The gap remained flat only because white scores declined.

Overall, progress for both races in the key subject of mathematics has been stagnant for two years.

Reading Gaps by Year

Reading scores are up from 2013 for both races, but whites consistently outscore blacks, so between 2013 and 2016 there has been no improvement in the very large gap of 4.1 points.

Also, note that the gap actually narrowed in 2014. Thus, the gap situation further decayed between 2014 and 2016.

The gap in science also grew between 2013 and 2016, which is particularly bothersome because white science scores in Kentucky actually declined between 2015 and 2016. Note that black scores in 2014 were 0.2-point higher than in 2016.

Science Gaps by Year

Finally, here is the Composite Score summary. This, too, shows a flat gap when 2013 is compared to 2016 although the Composite Score has risen a bit for both races.

Composite Gaps by Year

Overall, the only way the ACT’s picture of gap performance for whites and blacks in Kentucky can be summarized is disappointing. For sure, over the time frame since 2013 where the ACT presents consistent data, the gaps have not improved.

I’m not the only one expressing concern about the gap situation. In Kentucky Department of Education News Release 16-092, Commissioner of Education Pruitt says, “Kentucky still has ‘some serious work ahead of us’ to ensure all students are prepared for the next level.” The news release later admits that “the numbers illustrate that achievement gaps persist.”

Pruitt adds:

“The achievement gap is something we all have to own. Until we all share responsibility, we won’t see the change we want to see.”

The news release says something more that directly relates to our recent blogs raising concerns about the quality of high school diplomas in Kentucky. It says:

“While Kentucky’s minimum high school graduation requirements of four years of English and three years each of mathematics (including Algebra 1, Algebra 2 and geometry); science and social studies aligned with ACT’s recommended core curriculum, the rigor of the courses varies widely.”

That’s exactly in line with what we have been saying.

The time period of the data discussed in this blog includes the major portion of the time that Kentucky has been using the Common Core State Standards for English language arts and math (Kentucky adopted Common Core-aligned testing in reading, writing and math in the 2011-12 school year). If Common Core is supposed to improve performance for minorities, as of 2016 it has not shown up in Kentucky’s ACT results, a fact confirmed even by Kentucky’s education commissioner.

Tech Notes:

• All scores come from Table 1.5 in Kentucky’s annual ACT Profile Reports for 2013 through 2016. Note: ACT revised its website recently and old links generally don’t function. Some documents for past years are available at this link.

• ACT made some major changes to the way it reports scores in 2013, which creates a discontinuity with scores reported in earlier years. ACT explains this on Page 5 of Kentucky’s 2016 Profile Report in this way:

“Beginning in August of 2013, all students whose scores are college reportable, both standard and extended time tests, are now included. Also beginning in August 2013 Graduating Class data, College Readiness Benchmarks for Reading and Science were updated to reflect the most recent college coursework research.”

Decoding the second sentence, ACT changed its College Readiness Benchmark Scores in 2013, so comparison of benchmark performance to earlier years isn’t appropriate.

Likewise, due to the addition of a notable number of special-needs students who were allowed extra time to take the ACT — with only a few special exceptions — scores in ACT reports from 2012 and earlier generally are not comparable to scores in reports from 2013 and later. In particular, ACT doesn’t provide score disaggregations by race that can be fairly compared to data prior to 2013; hence I haven’t included data prior to 2013 in this blog.

(Minor technical updates August 24, 2016 at 11:50 am)