Wednesday, July 15, 2020
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More students take ACT, but scores drop a little

This year’s ACT results show an increase in student numbers for the class of 2016 but a slight decrease in the average level of college readiness, Education Week reports.

Only 26 percent of test-takers met the exam’s college-readiness benchmark this year, compared to 28 percent last year (full national report). The results, however, reflect a larger pool of test-takers from a wider range of academic ability levels, with about 64 percent of all high school graduates in the country taking the test in 2016, compared to 59 percent last year.

The increase may be due, at least in part, to new flexibility in the tests states can choose to use for accountability at the high school level. Floodgates are opened when states choose to pay for students to take the ACT, using that as the test used for accountability purposes under the Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA.

Correlation of scores with high school activity participation

ACT also reported the composite scores for students who participated in a range of high school activities. It turned out, “regardless of a student’s high school grade point average, involvement in high school activities is often associated with higher ACT Composite scores.”

The company is careful not to assert any causative relationship between participation in high school activities and ACT Composite score, but the correlation is strong enough, up through what may be a point of diminishing return. ACT Composite score tends to peak at four or five activities and then fall off once a student begins participating in nine or more activities.

Especially for students whose GPA is above 3.5, having too many activities correlates with a negative effect on ACT Composite score. High-GPA students who participated in five high school activities had composite scores that were, on average, more than five points higher than high-GPA students who participated in 12 activities.

Scores by state

In Maryland, 27 percent of high school graduates took the ACT, achieving an average composite score of 23.0. In Illinois, 100 percent of high school graduates took the test, achieving an average composite score of 20.8.

  Percent Meeting College-Ready Benchmark In
State English Reading Math Science
Illinois 64 42 41 36
Maryland 74 59 57 51

Illinois, being one of a handful of states that required all 11th graders to take the ACT for the graduating class of 2016, showed essentially no change in the average composite score, having achieved a mark of 20.7 for the class of 2015.

As we reported in September, average scores in states that require all students to take the test tend to be lower than average scores in states where taking the ACT is completely voluntary, like Maryland.


(2015 ACT data … expect a similar weak negative correlation in 2016)
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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