How Alabama Compares in the Latest ACT College and Career Readiness Report
Numbers are hard sometimes. Particularly in education, particularly in Alabama. So many easy (and often unflattering) comparisons to make.
A quick scan of where Alabama’s graduates stand in ACT’s newly-released College and Career Readiness Report for 2016 might get the typical “thank goodness for Mississippi” reaction, but stopping there isn’t giving the numbers a fair review.
Simply put, Alabama’s graduates had a composite score of 19.1. The national average was 20.8.
But there’s nothing simple about education data, and we’ve worked hard here to help folks understand it…not giving it the 200-word treatment and the flashy headline.
For example, it would have been easy to say “Alabama Lands in the Bottom Five in ACT Results Nationwide”, but that’s just not the whole picture.
So to make sure we are comparing apples and apples, but offering no excuses for low results, we offer the following points to consider while you’re chatting about this in the grocery store or on Facebook.
Of all of the states scoring at or above the national average composite score of 20.8, only two test 100% of their graduates: Minnesota (21.1) and Illinois (20.8). Nationwide, 64% of graduates were tested.
In the three states with composite scores over 24, Massachusetts, Connecticut and New Hampshire, only 28%, 34% and 23% of their students, respectively, took the ACT.
It is a generally-accepted principle that students who self-select to take the ACT have been planning for college long before the first time they take the ACT.
Alabama and The ACT
The ACT with Writing is given to all public school juniors in Alabama. That score is recorded. However, if the student takes the test a second or third time, the highest score is entered into the final results. It is unknown what percentage of Alabama’s students take the ACT a second or third time. That first try is paid for by the state.
It costs $58.50 to take the ACT with Writing. Without the writing portion, the cost is $42.50.
Fee waivers are available for students in families meeting income eligibility requirements. A student can get up to two fee waivers, meaning a student in an eligible family could take the ACT up to three times for free.
In most state universities, merit scholarships can be awarded based on ACT results. That investment can really turn into a windfall scholarship for students scoring highly.
Alabama is one of 20 states that offers ACT testing to 100% of its public school graduates. Of those 20 states, 18 actually tested 100% of all graduates, public and private, as reported by ACT in the report. Those states’ results are reported in the table below.
The numbers reported by ACT are for all high school graduates, which includes those in private or homeschool. In a press release today, the Alabama State Department of Education (ALSDE) stated that public school students in Alabama had a composite score of 18.7, below the Alabama overall average of 19.1 and the national average of 20.8.
Neither ACT nor the ALSDE releases public school results by district and school. However, the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama (PARCA) produced this data visualization of ACT results for public schools in 2015. (Pssst: PARCA did an excellent job with that analysis. Well worth the look.)
Where 100% of Graduates Are Tested
Here’s a look at results of states where 100% of graduates are tested.
Note the spread in composite scores is only 3.4 points. In the full data set (seen in the next section), the spread is 7.1 points. Self-selection in choosing to take a college entrance exam has a big impact on final results.
The “benchmarks” shown in the table represent the percentage of students obtaining the benchmark ACT believes gives the student a 50% chance of earning a “B” in a college entry course in that subject and a 75% chance of earning a “C”.
Those benchmarks are:
- English – 18 – College course equivalent: English Composition
- Reading – 21 – College course equivalent: Social Sciences
- Mathematics – 22 – College course equivalent: College Algebra
- Science – 24 – College course equivalent: Biology
And here’s a spoiler alert: Alabama still lands in the bottom five.
But context is important. Landing in the bottom five of the 18 states where 100% of the graduates were tested is different than simply landing in the bottom five out of all 50 states, plus D.C.
|State||Percent of Graduates Tested||Average Composite Score||% Meeting English Benchmark||% Meeting Reading Benchmark||% Meeting Math Benchmark||% Meeting Science Benchmark|
Nationwide 2016 ACT Results
The visualization below shows two things on the same map at the same time. The shade of the state and the number that appears is based on the parameter (or variable) you choose in the drop-down menu. The gray circle in the middle represents the percentage of graduates that are tested on the ACT. It adds a layer to the story that needs to be considered.
And for those of you who just like to have the full spreadsheet in front of you, here it is.
The numbers were taken from “The Condition of College and Career Readiness 2016”, published by ACT, Inc. Their report is full of good information.
Here are Alabama’s state profile and Alabama’s full set of numbers.
Here is the Alabama State Department of Education’s full press release.
8-24-16 ACT College Readiness Report Press Release – Alabama State Department of Education by Trisha Powell Crain on Scribd