News: Quick Takes

ACT scores show national downward trend as N.C. remains below average

(Photo by Kari Travis)
(Photo by Kari Travis)

The 2018 ACT scores are in, and they don’t paint a pretty picture.

North Carolina graduates continue to score below national averages, and the percentage of graduates meeting math and English college readiness scores are trending down. Readiness levels in math and English have been trending downward since 2014.

The results are based on the more than 1.9 million graduates, or 55 percent of the national graduating class of 2018 who took the ACT. In North Carolina, 100 percent of high school seniors are required to take the test.

“The negative trend in math readiness is a red flag for our country, given the growing importance of math and science skills in the increasingly tech-driven US and global job market,” Marten Roorda, ACT CEO, said in a press release. “It is vital that we turn this trend around for the next generation and make sure students are learning the math skills they need for success in college and career.”

On the national level, 40 percent of students tested met the math benchmark, down from a high of 46 percent in 2012. Readiness in English is trending down, too, with 64 percent meeting the English benchmark in 2015 and 60 percent meeting the benchmark in 2018. Readiness levels in reading (46 percent) and science (36 percent) haven’t changed much over the years.

In North Carolina, the highest percentage of students meeting a benchmark was in English at 46 percent, followed by 35 percent reaching the reading benchmark. Only 31 percent of students met the math benchmark and 25 percent reached the science benchmark.

“This is just the most recent example of the disconnect between inputs and outcomes,” said Terry Stoops, vice president of research and director of education studies at the John Locke Foundation. “Despite substantial increases in teacher compensation over the last five years, there have been no meaningful improvements in overall student performance on ACT tests.”

The average composite score for North Carolina students in 2018 is 19.1, while the national average is 20.8. The score ranges from one being the lowest score; 36 the highest.

Stoops said the most alarming statistic is scores by African-American students. North Carolina African-American students had an average score of 16, which was significantly lower than the state average score of 19.1. It’s the lowest of any racial or ethnic group in the state.

Eighteen percent of N.C. students met all ACT benchmarks, while 47 percent failed to meet just one.

“There are many possible explanations for our state’s inability to prepare a larger share of students for college-level work,” Stoops said. “Effects from changes in student demographics should not be discounted. Instructional practices that followed the statewide adoption of Common Core English and math standards and revised state science standards likely play a role.”

The ACT report suggests a few ways to turn around the dismal scores, such as providing equitable resources for underserved students and providing educators with more resources.

“Regardless of how we got here, it’s important for state education officials to explain to taxpayers why only 18 percent of North Carolina high-schoolers met all four college readiness benchmarks,” Stoops said.