Release of the latest ACT college entrance test results delivered a bitter message concerning the academic performance of Kentucky’s 2016 high school graduates: The state’s racial achievement gaps are not getting better.
Thankfully, Commissioner of Education Stephen Pruitt is not trying to spread a fresh layer of sugar over the disappointing results.
A news release from Pruitt’s office acknowledges the scores denote that “achievement gaps persist” and that Kentucky still has “some serious work ahead of us” to ensure all students are prepared for the next level.
Bluegrass Institute analysis of the new data indicates that across all student groups — public, private and home school combined — the achievement gaps in English and science actually were worse in 2016 than in 2013 when ACT, Inc., changed the way it reports scores.
The already-significant gaps remained unchanged in math and reading between 2013 and 2016 for all students.
The overall ACT composite score indicates the gap also stayed flat from 2013 to 2016, regardless of whether we look at the results of all graduates or just public-school students’ scores.
It’s troublesome enough that far fewer than half of the state’s 2016 graduates — just 31 percent in math and 40 percent in reading — met ACT benchmarks demonstrating college readiness. For Kentucky’s blacks, however, only 11 percent met muster for math; just 17 percent for reading skills.
For those paying attention, these ACT results point to a solution.
The institute compared Kentucky’s 2016 ACT performance for all students to those in charter school-rich Louisiana. Findings from these two states match those from previous years of ACT testing.
When ACT composite scores are disaggregated by race, both whites and blacks in Louisiana outscore Kentucky’s students in those racial groups. Virtually all minority groups in Louisiana outperform their Kentucky counterparts.
Louisiana clearly benefits from something it’s doing that’s not happening in Kentucky. Charter schools — well-known to especially benefit minority students but unavailable in Kentucky — likely contribute to that difference.
“The achievement gap is something we all have to own,” Pruitt rightly states. “Until we all share responsibility, we won’t see the change we want to see.” We applaud the commissioner for his boldness while recognizing that it’s going to take more than the right words to close these gaps.
Pruitt must challenge all Kentuckians to heed the messages of the new ACT results. It’s time for Kentucky to take the next step on the road to education reform with proven programs like public charter schools that help minorities as well as poor and disadvantaged Kentuckians compete for future opportunities in the 21st century global marketplace.
Richard G. Innes is an analyst for the Bluegrass Institute, free-market think tank. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.