Carlson: Re-Think Blanket ACT Requirement

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A recent news story in The Shreveport Times noted that Louisiana “state education officials say students are more prepared for college overall than ever before – based on Louisiana’s 19.4 average composite score …” on the 2015 ACT testing. State education officials may want to revise that suggestion for a couple of reasons.

First, historically speaking, composite scores have been higher in the past. In 1997, the state’s average composite ACT score was 19.4; in 1998, it was 19.5. By 2000, that score had climbed to 20.6, and in 2001 it was 20.8.

Marty Carlson
Marty Carlson

Next, according to the same news story, ACT data suggests that our state students aren’t ready to make the move from high school to college based on ACT benchmarks.

Although more than half of the students tested achieved the English benchmark, only 27 percent reached the math and science benchmark, and 35 percent achieved it in reading.

State education Superintendent John White pointed to poor math performance saying, “Our kids are getting further and further behind … because kids are not mastering higher level skills very early on.” The article summed up the results: Only 16 percent of the 49,082 state students tested reached all four benchmarks – the main indicators of college success in passing college-level courses with a C or better.

Finally, requiring all high school students to take the ACT, as state officials mandated in 2013, doesn’t represent how well Louisiana students who have actually taken the college prep curriculum stand in relation to their contemporaries across the nation. Acknowledging that state education officials and lawmakers are dedicated to improving education outcomes in Louisiana, the re-

quirement for all high schoolers to take the ACT may not be one of the best methods to achieve that.

Back in 1998, then Bossier Parish Schools Superintendent Jane Smith led a drive to compare “apples to apples” as it concerns who takes the ACT. Quoted at the time in a Shreveport Times news story, Smith observed that any high school student who wanted to take the ACT certainly should be afforded that opportunity. “That’s wonderful, if they are prepared for it,” Smith said, but noted that the test was being taken by too many students who didn’t plan to attend college and those who had not completed core curriculum courses resulting in a diluted showing for Louisiana

Smith suggested Louisiana go the route of other school districts in the nation in reporting only the results of students who had taken a college bound curriculum in computing district scores – thus comparing “apples to apples.” That didn’t happen nearly two decades ago, and it’s unlikely to happen now as Louisiana education leaders and lawmkers struggle to move state education outcomes from the bottom of the national scale. But in not determining some way to distinguish the high school curriculums of those who have taken the challenging college-bound course of study from those who do not, Louisiana’s ACT results are skewed and continue to reflect low education attainment for our state’s students.

State education officials may want to rethink how this practice of requiring all students to take the ACT, whether or not they are prepared for the rigors of the test – and how the results represent Louisiana education.

 

 

Marty Carlson is a columnist for the BPT. She may be reached at martycarlson1218@gmail.com