Nearly 60 percent of Kentucky’s public high school 2016 graduates failed to meet the state’s math benchmarks on the ACT college-entrance exams, according to data released Wednesday by ACT.
Only 41 percent of 2016 graduates made the benchmark math score of 19 compared to 44.5 percent of 2015 graduates, a news release from the Kentucky Department of Education said.
The state benchmarks represent the minimum scores that guarantee students entry into credit-bearing college courses at Kentucky college and universities.
Kentucky Education Commissioner Stephen Pruitt said the report indicates that Kentucky still has “some serious work ahead of us” to ensure all students are prepared.
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Graduates held steady in meeting the state’s college-readiness benchmarks on the ACT college-entrance exam in reading and English, with 50 percent meeting the reading benchmark of 20. That number was 49.5 percent in 2015. On the English benchmark of 18, 57 percent met the standard compared to 57.2 in 2015.
For the 2016 graduating class report, ACT used students’ scores from the last time they took the test, either as a junior or senior.
Nationally, overall achievement – both the average ACT Composite score and the percentage of students meeting ACT College Readiness Benchmarks – dropped in 2016. ACT officials blamed the significant increase in the percentage of students being tested.
Pruitt said that in recent years, Kentucky graduates – spurred by higher standards and college- and career-readiness goals tied to 2009 reforms – have realized significantly greater gains on the ACT than their counterparts nationwide.
From 2011 to 2015, Kentucky public school graduates made gains in every subject and more than a three-quarter point improvement in the overall composite score, Pruitt said.
“This year’s results are mixed comparatively,” he said. “Certainly we would like to see gains each year, but I am encouraged that in two out of three content areas, Kentucky students sustained the gains we have seen since 2011. As we look to the future, we must recommit ourselves to take each and every student to higher achievement levels.”
Composite scores for various groups of public school graduates are up from where they were several years ago, but the numbers illustrate that racial achievement gaps persist, the news release said.
For example, in 2016 all students had a composite score of 19.7; black students had a composite score of 16.8 and white students had a composite score of 20.3.
The state is putting an emphasis on strategies to close achievement gaps and rethinking student learning and engagement in high school, Pruitt said.
Pruitt said the state’s ACT scores show the timing is right for Kentucky to take advantage of the new Every Student Succeeds Act, the main federal law governing public education.
The federal law calls for states to develop new accountability systems that will close achievement gaps. Pruitt has reached out to citizens and established work groups to make recommendations on a new accountability system that will be implemented in 2017.
Kentucky’s state benchmarks are set by the Council On Postsecondary Education. They set scores students need to achieve in each subject area to be able to enroll in credit courses in college.
ACT has its own benchmarks. They are different than Kentucky benchmarks, and attempt to give a percentage correlation between what a student gets on the test and what grade they have a likelihood of achieving in college in that subject. ACT’s data on Wednesday showed how Fayette County Public Schools measure up to the ACT benchmarks. Fayette County had higher average ACT scores than the state and a greater percentage of students meeting college readiness benchmarks. District spokeswoman Lisa Deffendall provided data that showed Fayette County had an average overall ACT score of 20.9, compared to 20.8 nationwide and 20 in Kentucky.
Twenty-seven percent of Fayette students met overall ACT college readiness benchmarks, compared to 26 percent nationwide and 20 percent in Kentucky, Deffendall said.
“The entire community can take pride in these results,” said Fayette County Public Schools Superintendent Manny Caulk. “The fact that our students are outscoring the state and nation is a testament to the rigorous offerings in our high schools. As we look to the future, our focus is on pushing achievement levels even higher and ensuring that we provide that level of rigor for each and every student.”