ACT scores are out – Kentucky’s white minus black achievement gaps continue to be a problem

Sep 7, 2017 by

by Richard Innes –

The new ACT reports for the high school graduating class of 2017 have been publicly released, and there will be a lot to talk about concerning these important college readiness test results in the seventh year after Kentucky adopted the Common Core State Standards, which were supposed to dramatically improve college preparation.

Certainly, progress towards college readiness seems to have gone flat in Kentucky. Even the Kentucky Department of Education’s News Release about the new ACT scores says:

“(Kentucky Commissioner of Education Steven) Pruitt said this year’s flat ACT scores reinforce that the timing is right for Kentucky to take a serious look at its graduation requirements and move forward with a new accountability system that is designed to promote and hold schools and districts accountable for student achievement and significantly reduce achievement gaps (Underline for emphasis added).”

The department’s News Release emphasizes that racial achievement gaps are currently a hot concern in Kentucky. So, let’s look at the trends in the white minus black ACT achievement gaps from 2013 to the present. I only look back to 2013 because ACT changed its reporting format in that year, including for the first time scores for students who got more than the standard time to complete this college entrance test. As a result, the current data isn’t strictly comparable to years prior to 2013. Still, this covers the major portion of time that Common Core was really impacting Kentucky’s classrooms, as the state began Common Core-aligned testing in reading, writing and mathematics just one year prior in the 2011-12 school term.

Figure 1 shows how the overall ACT Composite Score trends look for all of Kentucky’s whites and blacks for high school graduates from public, private and home schools in the years of 2013 through 2017.

Figure 1

ACT Composite Gaps in Kentucky to 2017

As you can see, scores for both white and black students slowly increased over the past five years, but the achievement gap in 2017 has been basically flat, no better than it was back in 2014 (I highlighted the 2014 gap for emphasis).

Essentially, the ACT Composite Score achievement gap for whites versus blacks in the Bluegrass State hasn’t changed appreciably in half a decade of Common Core impacts in Kentucky.

Also note that the white scores look like they indeed are going flat. If that had not happened, the black gap trend would look even worse. We don’t want gaps closing only because white scores are staying stagnant.

I have similar graphs for the individual subjects tested by ACT, as well (English, Math, Reading and Science). Click the “Read more” link to see those.

Figure 2 shows the scores and gap trends for ACT English. Again, things don’t look impressive. Our 2017 white minus black ACT English achievement gap for all Kentucky students, public, private and home schooler combined, is no better than it was in 2014.

In addition, the white scores actually declined very slightly this year. If whites had not declined in ACT English, the white minus black gap would be even bigger.

To be sure, Kentucky’s blacks did make a little progress in ACT English over time, but in 2017 they still remain very far behind whites for scores on the 36-point ACT English test.

Figure 2

ACT English Gaps in Kentucky to 2017

Figure 3 shows the math situation. The gap trend in this critical subject is virtually flat, with the 2017 gap equal to the gaps in three of the four previous years. Notice as well that white scores were lower in both 2016 and 2017 than the peak reached in 2015.

Figure 3

ACT Math Gaps in Kentucky to 2017

These trends don’t build confidence in Kentucky’s Common Core-based math standards. As with the English gaps, if the whites had not gone more or less flat after 2015 in ACT Math, the gaps would be even worse.

Reading of course is essential for any educational program, so ACT also checks that skill. Figure 4 shows how the reading gaps have trended in Kentucky since 2013’s high school graduating class took the test.

Figure 4

ACT Reading Gaps in Kentucky to 2017

Again note that white ACT Reading scores dipped a bit in 2017, otherwise the white minus black ACT Reading gap would look even worse in 2017. At it is, the gap back in 2014 is still lower than the 2017 figure. The Common Core era in Kentucky has not seen any notable improvement in the ACT Reading gap situation, and that is a failure to produce on a major promise.

Also note in Figure 4 that black scores went flat in 2017 for reading.

Until I looked at the full trend over time, I thought that science was going to be a bright picture for white minus black ACT achievement gaps. However, as you can see in Figure 5, the gap in 2017 turns out to be no better than the gap posted back in 2014. The black ACT Science score in 2017 is scarcely higher than the 2014 score, as well.

Figure 5

ACT Science Gaps in Kentucky to 2017

Figure 5 also shows that white science has stagnated since 2015. Again, we don’t want gap closure only because whites are stagnating.

While Common Core doesn’t include science standards, keep in mind that Kentucky adopted the Next Generation Science Standards verbatim in 2013.

Thus, at least so far, it looks like NextGen Science isn’t living up to its promises to improve readiness, either. In fact, for Kentucky’s white students, so far the NextGen Science era has clearly led to performance stagnation.

To be fair, both white and black science scores are higher in 2017 than they were back in 2013, but the generally notable score jumps from 2013 to 2014 seem to have slowed down noticeably since then. In fact, as of the ACT results for Kentucky’s 2017 high school graduates, only 31 percent met the Science Benchmark Score that showed they were on track to be ready for college level science coursework. That is down from 2015, by the way, when 32 percent of Kentucky’s high school graduates met this benchmark.

In essence, since about 2014 or 2015 Kentucky isn’t making much progress on the ACT, and that progress surely isn’t coming very fast, either. When the Commissioner Pruitt indicates the ACT has gone flat in Kentucky, he is unfortunately right on target. And, that is a big problem for Common Core and NextGen Science, too.

Resource Notes:

The ACT scores used to create Figures 1 to 5 and for the comment about the 2017 Science Benchmark Scores come from each year’s ACT Profile Report for Kentucky. Find those reports at these links:

2013 ACT Profile Report, Kentucky, Table 2.5

2014 ACT Profile Report, Kentucky, Table 2.5

2015 ACT Profile Report, Kentucky, Table 2.5

2016 ACT Profile Report, Kentucky, Table 2.5

2017 ACT Profile Report, Kentucky, Tables 1.1 and 2.3

Source: ACT scores are out – Kentucky’s white minus black achievement gaps continue to be a problem | Bluegrass Institute | September 7, 2017

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