If the national ACT exams are a true indicator, then Missouri graduates are more prepared for college this year than last, and most plan to pursue a higher education.
More Missouri high school seniors took the ACT college entrance exams in 2015 than in 2014 and scored higher than the national average in English, reading, math and science, according to data released Wednesday by ACT.
On the Kansas side, fewer students took the exams this year than last year. The overall state scores dipped slightly in all but one area, science, where they remained flat.
Still, Kansas’ 2015 graduates outperformed the nation in all four subject areas. Additionally, for the fifth consecutive year, Kansas increased the percentage of high school graduates meeting all four ACT college-readiness benchmarks.
The ACT, which puts out an annual report on college readiness, is one of the nation’s primary college entry exams. It is scored on a scale of 1 to 36, with 36 being the highest. Nearly 90 percent of graduates nationwide take the ACT.
“The ACT is one tool used to measure college and career readiness,” Missouri Commissioner of Education Margie Vandeven said in a statement Wednesday. “We are pleased that the percent of Missouri students meeting readiness benchmarks continues to exceed national averages on all four measures.”
With a push to get more students ready to pursue post-high-school education, Missouri over the last four years has seen a 2 percent increase in the number of graduating seniors who have taken the ACT. In the class of 2015, 49,640 students (77 percent of the graduating class) took the test, compared with 48,864 in 2014.
Ninety-one percent of this year’s graduates who took the exams said they wished to pursue postsecondary education, according to Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education officials.
The average composite score in Missouri this year is 21.7, slightly higher than the 21.6 score it maintained from 2005 to 2013. Missouri remains above the national average of 21.
Kansas City Public Schools’ composite ACT score remained virtually flat, going from 16.7 in 2014 to 16.3 this year, keeping it below the state average.
The district did test more students this year than in the past, interim superintendent Allan Tunis said in a statement Wednesday.
“This year’s scores reveal that KCPS has room for improvement,” Tunis said. “We are developing a rigorous academic plan to guide and equip our teachers to assist our students in order to increase their scores. What the composite ACT results don’t show are the many outstanding scholars in KCPS who had scores that ranked among the best in the nation.”
Kansas’ 2015 graduates had an average composite score of 21.9, slightly lower than the state’s 2014 score of 22.
“You are going to hear me say over and over again that assessments are one snapshot in time of a student’s academic readiness for postsecondary pursuits — whether those pursuits lead to college or careers,” Kansas Education Commissioner Randy Watson said in a statement Wednesday. “Academics alone cannot guarantee success. We would be doing our kids a disservice to not work equally hard on developing soft skills like persistence, conscientiousness and teamwork.”
How well students might do in college is measured by whether their scores hit certain benchmarks set by ACT for each subject area. The ACT college readiness benchmarks represent scores that would indicate the level of academic preparation needed to have at least a 50 percent chance of achieving a grade of B or higher, or about a 75 percent chance of obtaining a C or higher in corresponding credit-bearing, first-year college courses.
Kansas City, Kan., high schools each bumped up school composite scores this year, advancing the district’s overall score to 16.3 from 16.1 a year ago.
“We are pleased to see our scores improve at each high school,” said Jayson Strickland, a district assistant superintendent.
Kansas City, Kan., Public Schools is one of the districts that has state permission to use the ACT as its state accountability exam in high school, so all juniors take the test.
In Missouri, 2015 was the first year all juniors in the state were given the ACT, but those numbers were not factored into this year’s test results.
Several districts on both sides of the state line had high schools with notably high ACT composite scores that far surpassed the national scores. Among the districts:
▪ Blue Valley high schools shattered the national numbers, giving its district an overall composite score of 25.4, a fraction higher than the 25.3 the district had last year.
▪ Olathe Public Schools officials were celebrating because their students racked up a composite score of 24 on the ACT exam, the highest in that district’s history.
“This type of academic achievement opens many postsecondary educational opportunities and financial benefits to our students,” said Jessica Dain, an assistant superintendent in Olathe.
▪ Liberty Public Schools had an overall ACT score of 21.5, up from last year’s 21.4.
▪ The Park Hill School District’s 2015 graduating class had a composite score of 23.9.
“We will continue to use the information we get from ACT scores, along with several other assessments and measures, to improve the way we meet students’ educational needs and prepare them for their future college and career experiences,” said Mike Kimbrel, director of research, evaluation and assessment for Park Hill.
Neither Missouri nor Kansas state education officials have access to ACT scores for individual school districts and high schools. That information is collected by the schools.
Beating the averages
Both Missouri and Kansas outscored the national average in percentage of students achieving college readiness benchmarks in each subject area. The national averages for percentage of students who met those benchmarks, compared with Missouri and Kansas:
▪ English: 64 percent; Missouri 71 percent and Kansas 71 percent
▪ Reading: 46 percent; Missouri 51 percent and Kansas 53 percent
▪ Math: 42 percent; Missouri 44 percent and Kansas 49 percent
▪ Science: 38 percent; Missouri 42 percent and Kansas 44 percent