The latest facts on Kansas high schoolers and the ACT
By DARCY GRAY
Special to The Telegram
More Kansas high school graduates who took the ACT test this year met the college readiness benchmark in science than graduates who took the test in the previous four years. The percentage who achieved the benchmark in reading, however, declined to its lowest in five years.
Changes to the ACT's benchmarks likely affected this year's test results, including those for Kansas students, said a spokesperson for the popular curriculum-based achievement test that measures the skills taught in schools.
The benchmarks were updated to ensure they remain reflective of college success, said ACT spokesperson Katie Wacker. The ACT raised the benchmark in reading by one point on the 1-to-36 scoring scale, while lowering the score for science one point. The English and math benchmarks remained the same.
The benchmarks specify a minimum score students must earn in each of the ACT's four subject areas to have about a 75 percent chance of earning a grade of C or higher in a typical first-year college course in that subject area.
ACT research suggests students who meet the benchmarks are more likely than those who don't to persist in college and earn a degree.
Of the 24,268 Kansas 2013 high school graduates who took the test — which is about 75 percent of Kansas' 2013 graduates — 51 percent met the college readiness benchmark in reading and math by scoring at least a 22 in those subject areas, according to the ACT data released Wednesday.
But between 2009 through 2012, 60 percent of Kansas high school graduates who took the test met the college readiness benchmark in reading each year, although they had to score only a 21 to meet the standard.
"Since the previous four years were so stable, I tend to believe (the benchmark change) is a major reason" for the decline in the percentage of Kansas graduates reaching the college readiness benchmark in reading, Wacker said.
This year, 42 percent of Kansas graduates who took the ACT scored at least a 23 to meet the new college readiness benchmark in science, a 7 percent increase from the only 35 percent who met the benchmark in science last year when they had to score at least a 22. Kansas surpassed the national rate of only 36 percent of test-takers achieving the benchmark in science.
"With the importance of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) careers, it's nice to see those numbers (in science) looking healthier than in the past," Wacker said.
In a news release Wednesday, the Kansas Department of Education noted 30 percent of Kansas graduates met ACT college readiness benchmarks in all four subject areas — an increase of 1 percent for the third year in a row and above the national average of 26 percent.
Kansas graduates' average composite score decreased slightly, however, to 21.8, down from 21.9 in 2012 though still ahead of the national average of 20.9.
The average score for Kansas high school graduates in English was 21.2, well above the ACT college readiness benchmark of 18. Kansas' average reading score remained at 22.3 for the fourth year in a row, while the average math score was 21.7, just below the benchmark of 22 but still surpassing the national average of 20.9.
Although the number of Kansas high school graduating seniors participating in the ACT test recorded an all-time high, the number represented just 75 percent of Kansas graduates, which is a decrease from 81 percent in 2012 and 79 percent in 2011. In comparing Kansas' ACT scores with states that also have 75 percent or more of the 2013 graduating class taking the ACT test, Kansas' average composite score of 21.8 ranked second-highest. Kansas was below South Dakota's composite score of 21.9 and above Nebraska's, which had a composite score of 21.5.
"We are pleased with the increased number of Kansas high school graduates now taking the ACT," said Diane DeBacker, state education commissioner. "This gives us a more complete picture of the college readiness of our students and helps inform state and local education decisions in Kansas.
"Our students continue to score ahead of the national average, and our goal is to continue to increase the number of children meeting and exceeding established benchmarks."