ACT results from the graduating class of 2016, released today by the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence, indicate that Kentucky’s graduates have only narrowly sustained the progress that has been made in English (57% meeting Kentucky’s college- and career-ready benchmark) and reading (50% meeting benchmark) over recent years. The results, however, show that graduates have lost ground in mathematics, falling from 44.5% meeting benchmark in 2015 to 41% in 2016. Achievement gaps, meanwhile, have not budged.
It is imperative that Kentucky make rapid progress in the number of students graduating with the academic preparation they need for their next steps. It is also imperative that this journey ensure that students in groups with the lowest rates of meeting college readiness benchmarks make dramatic improvement.
A high school graduate’s preparation for postsecondary education and training involves a range of academic, technical, and employability knowledge and skills that go well beyond what can be measured on a single test. The ACT test, however, which is taken by all 11th grade students in Kentucky, provides one important data point with which to evaluate Kentucky high school graduates’ preparation for their postsecondary pursuits.
Today’s results matter for two distinct reasons.
The first reason is that a students’ scores on the ACT have a direct bearing on his or her opportunities after high school. Meeting Kentucky’s college readiness benchmarks means entry into credit-bearing courses in Kentucky colleges and universities, putting students on a solid footing to meet their postsecondary goals. Results from 2016 raise an alarm that fewer students will be ready for credit-bearing courses in mathematics, increasing the cost of postsecondary education and lowering students’ likelihood of completion. These results have real costs for families and the state’s economy.
The second reason is that these results provide a comparable measure of student learning of essential academic knowledge and skills. ACT’s own research shows that the best strategy to increase scores is to expose students to rich and rigorous coursework. Test prep is not a sound strategy. Across the board, Kentucky’s results on a variety of state and national measures show that mathematics needs considerable and urgent attention.
These results call for Kentuckians to work together to accomplish the following:
• Set high expectations for each student along with school culture and climate that helps each student achieve at high levels, as students will rise to the expectations of adults that they respect and admire
• Increase investments in effective and equitable strategies to ensure that each student engages in challenging work that aligns to the state’s standards
• Put an emphasis on mathematics with a systematic approach that encompasses elementary and middle school years that set the foundation for high school success
Finally, as Kentucky works to rebalance a college- and career-ready accountability system for all schools, it’s critically important that the state use national benchmarks of readiness rather than Kentucky setting its own, lower benchmarks that fail to set expectations for students at an adequate level relative to their peers in other states. Setting benchmarks lower than the national bar puts Kentucky’s students at a disadvantage.