More stu­dents tak­ing ACT now

The Times (Northeast Benton County) - - OPINION - CECILE BLEDSOE Arkansas Se­na­tor

LIT­TLE ROCK — The ACT is the most im­por­tant stan­dard­ized test for high school stu­dents in Arkansas, and ev­ery year par­ents and ed­u­ca­tors an­tic­i­pate the re­leas­ing of test scores to see how our stu­dents are per­form­ing.

In the past decade, Arkansas stu­dents have shown steady im­prove­ment be­cause more of them are tak­ing col­lege prepara­tory cour­ses. How­ever, their av­er­age scores have usu­ally been slightly be­low the na­tional av­er­age and on par with neigh­bor­ing states.

This year marks a dra­matic shift in how Arkansas ad­min­is­ters the ACT tests and in­ter­prets the com­pos­ite scores. For the first time, ev­ery stu­dent in the 11th grade took the test, rather than merely those stu­dents who had plans to go to col­lege.

As re­cently as 2013, a third of high school ju­niors in the state did not take the ACT, but now Arkansas is one of 17 states na­tion­wide in which all 11th graders take it.

Ear­lier this year, 34,451 high school ju­niors took the ACT. They are now se­niors. In 2013, the num­ber of Arkansas ju­niors who took the test was 25,875.

As a re­sult of dra­mat­i­cally ex­pand­ing the num­ber of test tak­ers, the av­er­age score went down from 20.2 last year to 19.4 this year. The best pos­si­ble score is 36.

The ACT has four sub­ject ar­eas — English, read­ing, math and science. Na­tion­wide and in Arkansas stu­dents per­formed best on the read­ing sec­tion. Our av­er­age score was 19.7, down from 20.7 in 2016.

In math, Arkansas stu­dents’ av­er­age score was 19 this year, com­pared to 19.6 last year. In English it was 18.9 this year and 19.8 last year. In science, the av­er­age score in Arkansas fell from 20.2 in 2016 to 19.5 in 2017.

In spite of the de­clines in av­er­age test scores, the state’s top ed­u­ca­tion of­fi­cials were en­cour­aged by the re­sults. First of all, a large num­ber of new stu­dents was added to the co­hort, which is the of­fi­cial ter­mi­nol­ogy for the group tak­ing the test.

The to­tal num­ber of test tak­ers grew by 35 per­cent over the past four years, so the slight de­cline in av­er­age scores is not a cause for great con­cern. Those new test tak­ers are the stu­dents who never planned to go to col­lege or pur­sue aca­demics, and they gen­er­ally take the ACT only once.

Stu­dents plan­ning for col­lege of­ten take the test more than once in or­der to bring up their score. The av­er­age score of stu­dents who took the test only once was 16.5, and for stu­dents who took it mul­ti­ple times the av­er­age score was 21.1.

The state De­part­ment of Ca­reer Ed­u­ca­tion of­fers evening and week­end classes for stu­dents who score be­low a 19 and want to im­prove their scores on a sec­ond at­tempt at the ACT.

Stu­dents who score be­low 19 must take re­me­dial course work in col­lege. Those classes bring their aca­demics up to col­lege level, and the stu­dent does not earn col­lege cred­its for pass­ing them.

Arkansas stu­dents must score a 19 to qual­ify for Aca­demic Chal­lenge Schol­ar­ships, which are funded by the state lot­tery.

In sev­eral neigh­bor­ing states, all high school ju­niors now take the ACT. In Louisiana, the av­er­age score was 19.5, in Mis­sis­sippi it was 18.6, in Mis­souri it was 20.4 and in Ten­nessee it was 19.8.

Ed­i­tor’s note: Arkansas Se­na­tor Cecile Bledsoe rep­re­sents the third district. From Rogers, Sen. Bledsoe is chair of the Pub­lic Health, Wel­fare and La­bor Com­mit­tee.

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