I’ve pointed out before that in this day of rapidly changing student demographics, any decent comparison of testing data from state to state requires us to look at scores disaggregated by race. That is true for the National Assessment of Educational Progress (Harvard researchers, are you listening?) and for the ACT, as well.
In addition, when we talk about the ACT, we must consider that taking this test is still optional in most states, although more states now test all, or nearly all, of their graduates with the ACT. You cannot intelligently compare a state like Kentucky, where all graduates take the ACT, to a state like Maine, where less than 10 percent of the students take this college entrance test (they prefer the SAT there).
However, the number of states where very high proportions of students do take the ACT is growing. Aside from Kentucky, eight other states tested all their graduates with the ACT in 2012, and another state, Utah, tested a nearly complete 97 percent of its grads, as well.
Putting this together, we can take a more rigorous look than ever before at how Kentucky really performs on the ACT.
I provide such an examination of ACT Benchmark Scores in the following family of graphs. These look at ACT Benchmark Score performance for white students from both public and private schools combined in each state shown (click on the graphic to expand, if necessary).
When we look at the ACT Benchmark performance for Kentucky’s whites, we learn that, despite some recent small improvements, in almost every case our kids still trail other states. And, that includes other Southern states like Louisiana (which is going gangbusters less than a decade after Hurricane Katrina thanks to a huge increase in charter schools) and Tennessee.
In fact, Kentucky is even falling behind Mississippi on some ACT subjects. In the family of graphs above, Kentucky plays leapfrog with Mississippi for the bottom position. In two subjects – math and science – we slightly best whites in the Magnolia State. However, Mississippi’s white students more than get even with us in reading and English.
In fact, Mississippi has made some remarkable gains in English compared to Kentucky.
The message here is that while Kentucky has made some small gains on the ACT this year, we need to temper the pride because we have a very, very long way yet to go. And people who excessively tout Kentucky’s supposed progress need to understand that they are mostly just undermining their own credibility by making excessively rosy claims.
Technical Note: Data show above were extracted from the individual states’ “The Condition of College & Career Readiness | 2012 reports, page 7. There is one for each state.