As schools face increasing pressure to improve student readiness for college, ACT tests scores are a key indicator of how effectively schools are responding. The ACT state and national reports for 2013 show mixed results, but overall Kansas trends raise concerns.
After showing generally improving results for all students and major ethnic minority groups from 2002 to 2009, when education funding per pupil was increasing, Kansas performance on the ACT has generally leveled off since 2009, when funding per pupil has declined compared to inflation.
For the second year in a row, the average Kansas composite score dropped by 0.1, to 21.8. The composite average increased 0.1 points per year from 2003 to a high of 22.0 in 2008, 2010, and 2011, but has now slipped back to the lowest level since 2008. The national average was down 0.2 points, from 21.1 to 20.9. Only five states where at least 50 percent of students took the ACT had a higher composite score than Kansas: Minnesota (23), Iowa (22.1), Wisconsin (22.1), and South Dakota (21.9).
Positive news is that for the third year in a row and the fourth in five years, the percentage of students tested who meet college readiness benchmarks in all four subjects (English, Mathematics, Reading, and Science) increased and is now 30 percent, up from 24 percent in 2004.
The percentage of students who meet college-ready benchmarks in each individual subject is significantly higher, and Kansas ranks among the highest achieving states where at least 50 percent of graduates take the ACT. In English 72 percent of Kansas students tested meet the college ready benchmark; in Math 51 percent; in Reading 51 percent; and in Science 42 percent.
The reports also show the percentage of Kansas students whose scores were close to meeting each of the benchmarks. In English, nine percent of students tested were within two points of meeting the benchmark. In math, that percentage increased to 10 percent. For reading, 15 percent of students were within two points, and, in science, 20 percent of the students nearly met the benchmark.
Among Kansas adults, 30 percent of the population currently has attained a four-year degree or higher, and 32 percent have a one or two-year degree or other postsecondary education. New projections indicate 36 percent of Kansas jobs in 2020 will require a four-year degree or higher, and 35 percent will require some postsecondary education, but less than a four-year bachelor’s degree. That suggests Kansas will have to boost college readiness levels by approximately 10 percent.
Kansas achievement is already very high compared to other states. In states where at least 50 percent of graduates take the ACT, only five states had a higher percentage of students meeting the benchmark in any of the four subjects, as follows.
- English: Iowa (76 percent), Minnesota (78 percent), and Wisconsin (75 percent).
- Math: Iowa (54 percent), Minnesota (57 percent), South Dakota, (52 percent) and Wisconsin (53 percent).
- Reading: Minnesota (62 percent), South Dakota (53 percent), and Wisconsin (54 percent).
- Science: Iowa (46 percent), Minnesota (52 percent), Ohio (44 percent), South Dakota (46 percent), and Wisconsin (47 percent).
Like all states, Kansas has a significant achievement gap between white and Asian students and other minority groups. While white student scores in Kansas have remained unchanged at 22.6 since 2010, scores for African-American students have dropped from 17.8 to 17.5 since 2009, and Hispanic/Latino students dropped from an all-time high of 19.5 last year to 19.3 in 2013. Each major racial/ethnic group in Kansas exceeds the national average of that group.
As with the overall Kansas student population, students tested by the ACT have become increasingly diverse. In 2008, white students were 81 percent of those tested, dropping to 72 percent in 2013. African-American students grew from four to six percent, and Hispanics/Latinos nearly tripled, from four percent to 11 percent. These trends are expected to continue, which means Kansas will have to find ways to significantly increase the performance of minority groups in order to meet the state’s postsecondary education needs.
In a future report, we will consider the issue of ACT participation rates and student poverty among states.