The ACT scores for the graduating class of 2017 have just been released and results for Kansas graduates is not encouraging. The overall composite of 21.7 is lower than the 21.9 achieved in 2016. A look inside the composite provides a portrait of consistently lower scores across all academic areas.
- In each of the four core subjects of math, reading, English and science scores were lower than the class of 2016.
- All subgroups based on ethnicity save one scored lower than last year – Hispanics remained unchanged.
- Only 29% of all students taking the ACT are considered college ready in all four categories, down from 31% a year ago.
- As the graphic provided by ACT shows, both English and math college readiness scores have dropped each of the last four years. Only reading has shown an increase since 2013.
- Only 6% of Black students and 14% of Hispanic students are college ready in those four categories.
- Achievement in STEM (math and science scores) was lower across the board.
Note: ACT does not report scores based on income level.
The Kansas education establishment blamed a lack of money for the drop in scores and, true to form, never let a crisis go to waste. In fact, they seem more concerned with making a pitch for more money and less concerned about a drop in one achievement metric. Mark Tallman of Kansas Association of School Boards stated in this article, “Kansas school leaders have warned for years that failing to provide adequate funding with student enrollment rising and becoming more diverse will erode the quality of education.” Tallman, as he frequently does, makes the mistake of implying a causal relationship between money and outcomes. Using the accompanying graphic as a guide, if money made a difference in ACT performance, a jump in scores should have been precipitated sometime after 2005, when per-pupil spending spiked as a result of the Montoy court case. That didn’t happen.
Education Commissioner Randy Watson’s response to this news sounded like a canned speech from a college football coach who just lost a game. Watson said, “while we are encouraged by the increasing number of Kansas students preparing for post-secondary education, we know we have to better prepare our students both academically and socially/emotionally for life after high school.” The social/emotional piece of that quote is a nod to the Kansans Can initiative that emphasizes schools to have social and emotional development of students as a priority.
Although there is no simple answer as to why the scores dropped – KPI has established here that it isn’t driven by spending – if the trend toward lower scores continues as it has over the last several years, perhaps a return to a greater emphasis on academic success would be in order.