News

Scores on ACT point to many disparities

Updated: 2013-08-23T22:49:18Z

By JOE ROBERTSON

The Kansas City Star

The performance gap between white and minority students on the ACT college entrance exam isn’t the only concern mounting among Kansas and Missouri school districts.

Too many minority students are not even getting the chance to test their college readiness.

In Kansas, though Hispanic students now comprise 18 percent of the state’s overall public school enrollment, Hispanic students represented only 11 percent of the 2013 graduates who took the ACT.

And in Missouri, where black students are 17 percent of the overall enrollment, they made up only 12 percent of the graduates taking the ACT.

The lagging participation, coupled with persistent performance gaps, is troubling to school systems that realize improving minority performance will be essential in improving stagnant ACT scores statewide — and in preparing a skilled workforce in an economy that demands graduates who are college- and career-ready.

“You can talk college all you want, but the ACT is a gatekeeper,” said David Smith, chief of staff for the Kansas City, Kan., School District.

The district had long been frustrated by disappointing ACT scores and began two years ago using the college entrance test — instead of the state tests — as the performance measure of its high schools.

The district is still struggling to raise its scores, but everyone is taking the test in a district that is 44 percent Hispanic and 35 percent black.

“Now everyone can be in that conversation, including a lot of kids who wouldn’t have thought of college,” Smith said.

Overall, Kansas saw its average composite ACT score slip from 21.9 to 21.8 out of a possible score of 36. Missouri remained at 21.6. Both numbers held above the national average, which dropped from 21.1 in 2012 to 20.9 in 2013.

The national score has slipped occasionally in recent years and then recovered some as an increasing number of states and school districts have made the ACT their overall performance test.

The Liberty School District this past year brought ACT testing into its high schools and had every 2013 graduate take the test — which contributed to a two-point drop in scores.

By requiring all students to take the test, scores often drop because it brings in students who otherwise weren’t preparing to take the test and who tend to score lower.

But Liberty is willing to absorb the loss — and work to recover the ground — because the college exam helps embed a way of thinking that will have all students “prepared to make whatever choice they want to make,” said Marlie Williams, executive director of secondary education.

With the addition of North Carolina in 2013, a dozen states now make the ACT a statewide assessment, and all 12 of those states had lower composite scores than Kansas and Missouri.

In Kansas, 75 percent of graduates took the ACT in 2013, and 74 percent of Missouri’s graduates took the test.

Among the 13 states with similar participation rates — between 65 percent and 85 percent — Kansas and Missouri ranked sixth and seventh, behind Iowa, Minnesota, Ohio, South Dakota and Wisconsin.

While ACT is the most-used college entrance exam, many states on the East and West coasts and Texas prefer to use the SAT exam.

The ACT has established benchmark scores in the four areas of the test — English, reading, math and science — that it thinks indicate a student is prepared to pass first-year college courses.

In Kansas, 46 percent of the test-takers reached at least three of the four benchmarks, and 43 percent made three of four in Missouri, compared to 39 percent nationwide.

But when split by race or ethnicity, 52 percent of white test-takers in Kansas reached three benchmarks, compared with 26 percent of Hispanic students and 14 percent of black students.

In Missouri, 50 percent of white test-takers met three benchmarks, compared with 30 percent of Hispanic students and 10 percent of black students.

“This is a serious problem,” said Gwen Grant of the Urban League of Greater Kansas City, whose Project Ready has been trying to help students increase the rigor of their studies and their test preparation. “This is devastating.”

Many minority students are raised in poor homes and pass through school systems that are struggling to help them close gaps in their academic skills.

“Whether public, private or charter schools, a majority are not prepared, and that’s unconscionable,” Grant said. “They risk being permanently subjected to an underclass.”

The Washington, D.C.-based Education Trust has been working to close achievement gaps nationwide, including in college- and career-preparedness as revealed in the college entrance exam scores.

“All groups of students say they want to go to college,” said Natasha Ushomirsky, senior policy and data analyst with the Education Trust. “But gaps open in knowing what you need to know to get there.”

The overall growth in the number of students taking tests like the ACT and SAT is muted by the continuing deficit in rigorous course preparation, college and career counseling, and access to the skills needed for successful college applications and obtaining scholarships and financial aid, Ushomirsky said.

The impact of minority students — particularly Hispanic students — is only going to grow. So the future strength of the workforce is highly dependent on education’s success, educators say.

But policy makers aren’t keeping up with the needs of this rising population, said Robert Barrientos, co-director of the Kansas City area Latinos of Tomorrow, which tries to improve the odds of success for Hispanic youth.

Research shows that about 40 percent of the Hispanic children going into Kansas schools come from families whose parents are foreign-born, he said. That is where the performance gap is mostly seen.

“In third- and fourth-generation families, you don’t see those discrepancies,” Barrientos said. The biggest hurdle lies in language skills that need more attention from state and federal programs, he said.

“But the true diversity (of the nation) has not caught up to a lot of people.”

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ACT SCORES

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Average composite score out of possible 36

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20122013

.

U.S.21.120.9

.

Kansas21.921.8

.

Missouri21.621.6

.

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MISSOURI DISTRICTS

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Blue Springs

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Blue Springs23.422.9

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Blue Springs South22.923.1

.

Independence

.

Truman22.322.3

.

William Chrisman21.221.3

.

Van Horn18.017.9

.

Kansas City

.

ACC Prep16.514.2

.

Central14.414.2

.

East14.415.5

.

Lincoln22.222.4

.

Northeast14.814.4

.

Paseo16.116.5

.

Southwest16.014.8

.

Lee's Summit

.

Lee's Summit22.823.0

.

Lee's Summit North23.323.0

.

Lee's Summit West23.023.5

.

Liberty

.

Liberty23.321.5

.

Liberty North23.321.1

.

Raytown

.

Raytown19.920.3

.

Raytown South19.519.3

.

North Kansas City

.

North Kansas City20.820.3

.

Oak Park21.421.5

.

Winnetonka20.320.4

.

Staley21.722.3

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Park Hill

.

Park Hill22.923.6

.

Park Hill South23.824.1

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Other schools

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Alta Vista15.515.2

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Belton23.022.6

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Cass Midway20.920.4

.

Center18.718.0

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DeLaSalle13.916.3

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Excelsior Springs21.220.9

.

Fort Osage20.821.3

.

Frontier School16.215.4

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Grain Valley22.222.1

.

Grandview18.117.8

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Harrisonville22.421.5

.

Hogan Prep17.117.4

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Hope AcademyDNPDNP

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Kearney22.222.0

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Lone Jack22.121.7

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North Platte20.722.0

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Oak Grove21.321.6

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Platte County22.022.4

.

Pleasant Hill22.422.1

.

Raymore-Peculiar22.422.5

.

Hickman Mills (Ruskin)16.917

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Smithville21.822.9

.

University Academy19.119.4

.

West Platte22.723.3

.

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KANSAS DISTRICTS

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Blue Valley

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BV High24.925.3

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BV North25.325.4

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BV Northwest24.725.5

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BV Southwest24.923.6

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BV West24.424.7

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De Soto

.

De Soto22.123.0

.

Mill Valley23.124.0

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Kansas City, Kan.

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Harmon16.015.2

.

Schagle15.814.7

.

Sumner21.421.7

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Washington16.315.2

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Wyandotte15.214.9

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Olathe

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Olathe East24.124.6

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Olathe North22.722.6

.

Olathe Northwest24.123.9

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Olathe South23.623.5

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Shawnee Mission

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SM East25.525.2

.

SM North22.222.3

.

SM Northwest24.123.4

.

SM South23.924.3

.

SM West23.122.2

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Spring Hill

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Spring Hill21.921.7

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Insight School of Kansas22.622.5

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Other schools

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Basehor-Linwood22.522.7

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Bonner Springs20.420.9

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Easton (Pleasant Ridge)22.621.8

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Gardner-Edgerton23.223.0

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Lansing23.123.0

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Leavenworth21.421.7

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Piper22.121.4

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Tonganoxie21.921.1

.

Turner18.918.8

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DNP: did not provide

To reach Joe Robertson, call 816-234-4789 or send email to jrobertson@kcstar.com.

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