ACT scores are out: How does Kentucky compare to other Southern states?

ACT results for all graduating seniors in the Class of 2013, public and private school combined, have been released.

ACT changed the way it reported scores this year, and that makes it trickier than ever to insure doing “Apples-to-Apples” comparisons of the new data to that from previous years.

So, in this first post I only look at 2013 data, which for the first time adds scores from students with learning disabilities who qualified for extended time during the test administration to scores for students who took the test under the standard time limit. This change drags down the overall 2013 ACT averages slightly compared to other years.

Another issue with state-to-state comparisons of ACT data is that in some states only a small proportion of the graduates take this college entrance test. It is important to compare results from states that have high percentages of their graduates tested.

So, how does Kentucky compare to other Southern States that tested very high percentages of their graduates (at least 95%)? This table tells the tale (click on it to enlarge if necessary).

ACT 2013 KY LA MS TN NC Scores by Race

As you can see from the many green shaded scores for the other listed states, Kentucky generally trails on ACT for every racial group listed for all the states except North Carolina.

Louisiana is particularly important in this comparison because it has strongly embraced charter schools to help turn its chronically low performing schools around. It looks like something very good is happening in this leading charter school state – a message I wish our leaders in Frankfort would finally appreciate. Most of the score differences between Louisiana and Kentucky in the table are notable.

I should add a comment on North Carolina. This state has traditionally favored the SAT for college entrance testing. Just one year ago, only 20 percent of North Carolina’s graduates took the ACT. So, experience with the ACT is low in that state at present. I would not be surprised to see a rapid rise in scores for that state over the next few years as familiarity with the ACT grows.

Another point, one I have often made about comparing state scores with the National Assessment of Educational Progress such as here, is that while Kentucky generally trails for each racial group compared to Louisiana, Mississippi and Tennessee, the overall score for all students in Kentucky exceeds those states’ overall scores. That happens only because Kentucky has many more white students than the other states do. Even though our whites score lower than whites in other states, our whites do tend to outscore all the racial minority groups in other states. So, when everything gets averaged together, Kentucky looks good. But, that really isn’t an accurate picture. You have to disaggregate the data by race to see this, as I have done in the table above. Clearly, Kentucky isn’t doing better than the other states (except North Carolina).

A few closing notes – The scores reported above are for all students in the state, public, home school and private schools combined. They are not the same as public school only scores reported by the Kentucky Department of Education, which did show a 0.1 point improvement in the ACT Composite Score in 2013. You can see that in the Kentucky Department of Education’s News Release 13-082, which does an “Apples to Apples” comparison of public school only scores for Kentucky from 2009 to 2013 (But only for students who took the ACT in the standard time limit).

Also, to repeat, the scores in the table above include both standard time and extended time, but college reportable, students’ scores.

I think this is a pretty good “Apples-to-Apples” comparison, but I’ll be happy to listen if someone disagrees.

Stay tuned, because I am working on something I get asked for every year: the scores for Kentucky’s non-public school students. It’s a special, value-added bit of research you can only find at the Bluegrass Institute.


  1. […] Gary Houchens sent me this handy link about ACT scores in the midst of a Twitter discussion on charter schools in Kentucky.  Of course, […]

  2. […] on the ACT. (If you cannot enlarge this with your e-mail reader, you can find this table here: that Louisiana scored 0.1 point lower than Kentucky when you look at overall scores. […]