The 2015 ACT results – Achievement gaps and a perspective on Kansas scores

David DorseyEducation

cid:15D68CC2-E899-424C-8791-32DDFFE4280C@attlocal.netThe recently released 2015 nationwide ACT scores reveal the achievement gaps based on race and ethnicity persist. African Americans and Hispanics continue to lag behind White students, as shown on both the map and the companion chart. The data also shows a state-to-state consistency along racial and ethnic lines. In every state and D.C. White students scored highest, while Hispanics outperformed African Americans in all states but New Mexico and Rhode Island. Note: ACT does not report scores based on income level.

A pdf of the map and chart is available here.

Yes, Kansas students once again scored above the national average, ranked in a tie for 21st overall.

However…comparing ACT results across state lines is at best tricky business.

There are two participation realities that make it difficult to compare states’ composite performances. As the above chart reports, 13 states require all students to take the ACT, regardless of post-secondary education intentions. Not surprisingly, those states have among the lowest overall composites. On the other end of the spectrum, there is a block of states, primarily on the east coast, in which a very low percentage of high school grads take the ACT. Presumably, those are states in which the SAT is the predominant test and those who choose to take the ACT are targeting particular colleges and universities. And predictably, those are the states with the highest ACT composites. Comparing Kansas to those two sets of states is not quite apples to oranges, but more like comparing a Red Delicious to a Granny Smith.

A more honest assessment of how Kansas ranks is to make a comparison to those states in which the percentage of students taking the ACT is roughly the same as Kansas (74%). There are 10 states in which the percentage of students taking the ACT is between two-thirds and four-fifths. When comparing Kansas to those states and also controlling for demographics, a different picture of achievement emerges.  

When comparing the White students in those ten states, the Kansas composite score, 22.8, is virtually the same as 10-state White student average composite of 22.7 as shown in the table below.

The same is true when comparing Hispanics in the same cohort. The Kansas composite of 19.2 is the same as the 10-state composite. Kansas African American students actually fare better than their counterparts with 17.6 composite compared to 17.1 across the ten states.

In reality, Kansas doesn’t perform above average when it comes to the ACT. Kansas has a demographic advantage that distorts the statewide results, since seven in ten students who take the ACT are White. Only 13% of test takers are Hispanic and just 5% are African American.

Both the educrats and the media like to give Kansas kudos for scoring above the national average. However, it’s much more honest to say that when providing a true Granny Smith to Granny Smith comparison by controlling for participation and race/ethnicity, Kansas is only about average.

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