Take a deeper look at what ACT scores reveal

/ 26 August 2013 / eunice

Star Tribune Editorial, August 26, 2013 – Minnesota teens have come out on top on an important college entrance exam — again. For the eighth consecutive year, state seniors posted the highest ACT scores among states in which at least half of students took the exam.

And once again, observers should understand those results in context. Though state students do well overall, the results still reflect that Minnesota has one of the widest learning disparities in the nation between white students and students of color.

Test results released last week underscore the need to re-evaluate some of the dozens of achievement-gap programs. If they are not getting the desired results, the resources should be redirected to more-­effective efforts.

For the ACT, students are tested in the areas of English, math, reading and science. The results include not only composite scores, but also a gauge of how well students are prepared for postsecondary coursework.

This year, Minnesota’s average composite score was 23, up from 22.8 in 2012, out of a possible 36. Seven other states had higher scores, but fewer than half of students in those states took the test. About 74 percent, or 44,676, of Minnesota graduates took the ACT.

In another noteworthy development, Minnesota’s class of 2013 showed significant improvement in college readiness. In 2006, only 28 percent of Minnesota ACT test takers had high enough scores to predict that they would get good grades in college. This year, that number rose to 39 percent.

However, that still means about 60 percent failed to master at least one academic area in high school. That’s why state data on entering college freshman show that nearly a third of them need some remedial course work.

The disparities show up sharply in the college-prepared group. Among them, 61 percent of the state’s white students reached the minimum ­college-readiness benchmarks in at least three of the four subjects tested, compared with black students at 16 percent. And American Indian, Asian and Hispanic students saw the college-­readiness gaps widen.

A state education official noted that most Minnesota students of color do better on the exam than their counterparts nationally. Still, the disparities remain unacceptably large here and around the country.

The differences in academic achievement persist even though millions have been spent in this state by schools, government, business and nonprofit groups to address racial and economic learning gaps. That suggests that more evaluation, coordination and accountability is needed for all of those programs.

Being No. 1 nationally on ACT scores is good news — but the ranking must be tempered by some of the details that an aggregate look can mask. More must be done to become the nation’s leading state in boosting overall test scores, improving academic rigor and narrowing learning disparities.