– Kentucky faces major challenges
The ACT, Incorporated, which administers the ACT college entrance test, just released results for each state’s 2009 high school graduates. The news for Kentucky is sobering.
For example, this is the first year that all of Kentucky’s graduates took the ACT, a participation rate of 100 percent. Not very far behind us, a high percentage of Mississippi’s high school graduates also took the ACT in this graduating class, 93 percent to be precise.
Those rates are close enough to make a comparison of scores for the two states worthwhile, which I do in the graph below.
Notice that while Kentucky edges out Mississippi by half a point on the overall average ACT Composite Score for all students, that advantage evaporates when performance of the different racial groups is compared.
In every single case, Mississippi’s different racial groups outscore their peers here in Kentucky. Every case!
The only reason Kentucky’s overall average score is higher than Mississippi’s is because we have an unfair advantage – our student population is predominantly White, while almost half of the students in Mississippi are from other racial groups that score lower on the ACT. That demographic difference places Mississippi at a serious disadvantage when the only analysis attempted is a simplistic comparison of overall average scores.
This demographic problem in interpreting state to state test scores isn’t new. We have written before, such as here, that comparing any state to state scores from the National Assessment of Educational Progress has become highly problematic because of very different racial make-ups of the student populations. That is now also true for the ACT.
When I looked at the new ACT scores for just Whites and African-American/Black students for those states that had high graduate participation rates in the assessment, the following two graphs resulted.
Our Whites scored dead last against their peers in other high ACT participation rate states, and our Blacks only did better than their peers in Michigan, where the disastrous collapse of the automobile industry is wrecking havoc.
Certainly, the new ACT results are important. They provide a good indication of whether students are properly prepared for college or not. The results from this year’s graduates also strongly indicate that Senate Bill 1 from the last regular legislative session was badly needed in Kentucky. Obviously, our CATS-dominated education program wasn’t getting kids ready for what they needed next. Fortunately, we have now thrown out CATS and are in the process of revising our education standards with the goal of making them better aligned with what our kids really need. The new ACT data shows the effort comes none to soon.
Furthermore, the legislature’s wisdom in requiring 100 percent testing in Kentucky with the ACT, something the Bluegrass Institute favored, is now apparent. At least now we have some fairly trustworthy information about just how bad things really are. CATS never gave us that.
In fact, one comment on the importance of the ACT results comes from a most interesting source, former Kentucky Commissioner of Education Gene Wilhoit. He is quoted in the ACT news release as saying, “We applaud ACT for showing where we need to elevate state standards.”
To that, I can only say, amen!
There is a lot more to the new ACT story, including the ACT’s recommendations on what Kentucky can do to improve its performance. You can find that in “ACT College Entrance Test Results for 2009 High School Graduates,” a new freedomkentucky.org Wiki item.