The state Education Department happily reports a sharp increase in the number of Arkansas students taking the ACT test for college admission. That could mean a rise in the college-going rate. The news release saves for the final paragraph, however, the full breakdown of the downside of greater participation. A comparison of test scores shows Arkansas average scores on the test generally falling even farther below the national average in 2010 in every category.
EDUCATION DEPARTMENT RELEASE
Arkansas saw a significant increase in the percent of high school graduates who took the ACT college admission and placement exam in 2010 — 81 percent, compared with 73 percent in 2009 — which serves as a good indicator as the state strives to prepare and encourage more students to enroll in higher education. The average composite score for the 24,578 graduates taking the exam in 2010 dropped by .3 points from 2009 to 20.3 this year, likely a function of the increased number of test takers.
Nationally, 47 percent of high school graduates took the ACT in 2010, and the national average composite score was 21, down by .1 from the previous year. (See the chart at the end of the release for a comparison of state and national scores in each subject area).
“In Arkansas, we know it is critical to have more of our citizens earning college degrees, so we must do everything we can to make higher education a more likely option for all students,” said Tom W. Kimbrell, Arkansas commissioner of education. “Still, anytime you expand the pool of test takers, you should not be surprised if the average score drops some. In fact, officials from ACT told us that they had observed similar declines in scores in other states that were pushing to have more students take the ACT, but that scores usually climbed fairly quickly after that initial drop.”
Arkansas has engaged in a Voluntary Universal ACT Assessment Program to expand access of the exam to students. Students take the exam in their junior year of high school, and in 2009 6,0221 students at 62 school districts participated in the program, which allows students to take the ACT for free at their local schools. Those scores are included with the scores of the 2010 graduates.
Many Arkansas colleges require a score of 19 or higher on the mathematics and English sections of the ACT for enrollment in credit-bearing courses. Sixty percent of Arkansas students met that score in English while 53 percent did in math. Last year, 64 percent and 54 percent scored a 19 or higher in English and math respectively.
The state has, however, experienced an increase at the higher end of the score spectrum over the past few years, according to Jim Purcell, director of the Arkansas Department of Higher Education. He pointed to the greater number of 2010 high school graduates qualifying for the Governor’s Distinguished Scholarship, which requires an ACT composite score of 32 or higher. In 2010, 392 students qualified for the scholarship, compared with 240 who were eligible for the scholarship in 2005.
“I believe the fact that more students are hitting this high bar on their ACT’s can be attributed to the state’s focus on college and career readiness through its Smart Core curriculum for high school students,” Purcell said. Smart Core is a set of courses that include four units of grade level English, three units each of social sciences and physical sciences, and four units of mathematics which must include algebra I, geometry, algebra II and a higher level math class such as statistics or calculus.
The ACT results come at a time when much national focus is being placed on adopting and implementing new college and career readiness standards in high school. The Arkansas State Board of Education adopted the Common Core State Standards in July, with full implementation set for the 2014-2015 school year. ACT has been a partner in the Common Core State Standards Initiative, sharing its decades of research and experience to help inform the development of the standards.
“This is a critical moment as our country cooperatively commits to college and career readiness for all through the Common Core State Standards,” said Cynthia B. Schmeiser, ACT’s Education Division president and chief operating officer. “The information in ACT’s report provides a gauge of the current state of college and career readiness across the nation as well as a preview of the challenges in workforce capacity we have ahead of us.”
The following shows score comparison between Arkansas and the rest of the country on the ACT in this order left to right — 2010 Arkansas score 2010 National score 2009 Arkansas score 2009 National score
20.1 20.5 20.6 20.6
19.9 21.0 20.1 21.0
20.6 21.3 21.0 21.4
20.2 20.9 20.2 20.9
20.3 21.0 20.6 21.1