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Students’ scores on ACT fall in state

Most ever take college-entry test by Cynthia Howell | August 17, 2011 at 6:08 a.m.

— Arkansas high school students in the Class of 2011 took the ACT college entrance exam in record-breaking numbers, and their average composite score fell to 19.9 when compared with the previous year’s 20.3.

The Arkansas score dropped while the national ACT composite score ticked up a 10th of a point, rising from 21 in 2010 to 21.1 for the 2011 class. The exam is scored on a scale of 1 to 36.

The exam results, released early today, showed that about 1 in 6 Arkansas test-takers in the class — 17 percent — were prepared for college success in all four ACT tested subjects that make the composite score: English, reading, mathematics and science.

Nationally, 25 percent of students are considered prepared for college success, up from 24 percent the year before and 23 percent the year before that.

The annual ACT report comes at a time when the state has made going to college and degree-completion priorities, in part by instituting the Arkansas Scholarship Lottery. The 2-year-old lottery-funded Arkansas Academic Challenge Scholarship program that provides $4,500 a year for eligible students at fouryear campuses and $2,250 at two-year campuses requires a minimum 2.5 grade-point average or a composite ACT score of 19.

Ninety-one percent, or 27,020 members of the justgraduated 2011 class, took the ACT. That’s 2,442 students more than in 2010 when 81 percent, or 24,578 members of that class, took the test. Two years ago, in 2009, 73 percent of the class, or 22,523, took the test.

Shane Broadway, interim director of the Arkansas Department of Higher Education, said he saw in the ACT report evidence that Arkansas initiatives to encourage postsecondary education are succeeding even though the average composite score on the exam declined.

“You always have a concern anytime you see a drop, but I think we are all pleased with the amount of students now — and we’ve seen an increase every year — who are taking the exam and who are looking at going to college,” Broadway said. “That’s the upside, the positive you can take away from it.”

Broadway said the availability of Arkansas Academic Challenge Scholarships is prompting students to take the ACT who might not have taken the test in the past and may not be as well prepared for it as some of their peers.

He also cited the Arkansas Works Program that was expanded in 2008 to place what are called college and career coaches in 21 of the state’s poorest counties.

The coaches are employed by local colleges and universities to work in area school districts to promote college planning and enrollment starting with eighth-graders. Students are able to take the ACT at least once at no charge to them.

School districts also can use some of the state aid they receive for educating children from low-income families to pay for the ACT exam for students.

“You have a lot of students who in the past would not have been exposed to taking the ACT exam or even thinking about going to college,” Broadway said about the initiatives. “That’s no excuse. There’s no excuse that they shouldn’t be performing better. But, obviously, when you have more numbers and especially if those students are ones who traditionally would not have taken the ACT, your scores tend to go down.”

The drop in the ACT score underscores the importance of the state’s efforts to put into place the new national Common Core education standards and accompanying, state-mandated exams, Broadway also said. The standards and the tests need to be brought “closer together,” he said.

The exams, which are to be in place by 2014-15, are expected to include a collegeand career-readiness exam. That exam will be jointly developed by general-education and higher-education officials, eliminating some of what Broadway said has been a “disconnect” between what is taught in high schools and what is necessary to be successful in college.

Arkansas is one of 12 states in which 80 percent or more of students in the Class of 2011 took the ACT. Among those states, Kentucky, Mississippi and Tennessee had lower composite scores but 100 percent of students were tested, according to the ACT report.

Nationally, more than 1.62 million students in the Class of 2011 took the ACT, which was 49 percent of the class.

Jon Erickson, interim president of the ACT’s Education Division, noted the increase in student preparedness for college-level courses.

“It’s encouraging to see the positive trend continuing,” Erickson said. “Although growth has been slow, it has been consistent. Things appear to be moving in the right direction.”

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan also recognized the progress but urged a faster pace of improvement.

“In today’s knowledgebased economy, American children are competing with the rest of the world for jobs, and our country’s long-term economic security is directly tied to the quality of its public education,” he said in a statement.

“These ACT results are another sign that states need to raise their academic standards and commit to education reforms that accelerate student achievement.”

In the four subject areas, the Arkansas test-takers earned an average 19.6 in English compared with 20.6 nationally, 19.7 in math compared with 21.1 nationally, 20.2 in reading compared with 21.3 nationally, and 19.8 in science as compared with the 20.9 earned by their peers nationally.

The Arkansas scores were down in every subject area when compared with the 2010 results which were: 20.1 in English, 19.9 in math, 20.6 in reading and 20.2 in science.

ACT has established scores that students must earn in the different subject tests to have a 50 percent chance of obtaining a grade of B or higher in the corresponding first-year college courses of English composition, college algebra, biology and an introductory social-sciences course.

A student would have to earn a score of 18 on the English part of the ACT to have that 50 percent chance of a B in a college freshmen English course. Sixty-one percent of the Arkansas test-takers met that standard, while 66 percent of test-takers did so nationally.

It takes a score of 21 on the ACT reading test to have 50 percent chance at a B or better in a social-sciences course at the college level. In Arkansas, 44 percent of the test-takers reached that score, compared with 52 percent of students nationally.

A 22 is necessary to have an even shot at making a B in college algebra. Thirty-three percent of the Arkansas test-takers, and 45 percent of national test-takers met that mark.

An ACT score of 24 on the science section of the exam gives a student a 50-50 chance of making a B or better in biology. Only 21 percent of the state’s students earned that science score, compared with 30 percent nationally.

ACT does not release the results for individual Arkansas school districts, leaving it to the districts and schools to release that information.

In the Little Rock School District, for example, the Class of 2011 earned an average composite score of 18.7 in a year where 1,271 students took the test. That compares with an average score of 18.6 in 2010, 18.9 in 2009, 20.0 in 2008 and 19.5 in 2007.

At the individual schools, Central High had a composite score of 20.9, same as in 2010. Twenty-five percent of the Central students were prepared in all subjects for college work, compared with 17 percent statewide.

Parkview Magnet High had an average composite score of 20.1, compared with 20.4 a year earlier. Hall High’s composite improved from 15.9 to 16.4 for 2011. J.A. Fair High’s composite was 15.6, compared with 15.5 the year before. Mc-Clellan High’s composite score was unchanged from last year at 15.7. The number of test-takers at McClellan grew by nearly 50 percent from 100 to 148 between 2010 and 2011.

Officials in the Pulaski County Special and North Little Rock school districts said they have not yet received the scores for their districts and schools.

Front Section, Pages 1 on 08/17/2011

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