ACT is sobering news on school performance

Nothing, it seems, can break the ACT test’s grip on an exasperating status quo.

Progress in the college entrance exam scores released today mostly eluded the nation and Missouri and Kansas high schools.

Little was gained even after a decade of No Child Left Behind reforms.

Even with area Missouri districts steadily rising to the highest marks on the state’s report card.

No matter that Kansas schools have shown steady growth on their state assessments.

The ACT is education’s reality check.

Some schools saw boosts in their average scores. But they embraced their gains cautiously because many schools that gained a year ago slipped back.

The ups and downs converged on a flat line in both Missouri and Kansas average scores, maintaining a persistent gap among races and socio-economic groups.

The national average held fast at 21.1 out of a possible score of 36.

Missouri held at 21.6 and Kansas went from 22.0 to 21.9.

The best news lay in small gains in math and science that showed more students appeared college-ready in what remain the most challenging subjects.

Even with the gains, only about one third of the test-takers in Missouri and Kansas are ready to pass a college course in science and just half are ready to pass a college course in math.

Kansas overall scored slightly higher than Missouri, with both states holding their positions slightly above the national averages — meaning ACT success has been elusive nationwide.

Kansas City, Mo., Public Schools mirrored the state and nation’s mixed results, with some schools seeing small gains, and some small losses, leaving the district still below the national average.

“After 10 years of No Child Left Behind, the ACT shows we’re making no progress to either of the law’s laudable goals,” said Bob Schaeffer of the National Center for Fair and Open Testing.

Performance is lagging, he said. Significant gaps remain between affluent children and their economically disadvantaged peers. Likewise, white and Asian students widened the difference between them and black and Hispanic students.

The ACT test, assuming a role as a sort of external audit, is rolling out scores in most states that dampen higher achievement on state tests. The ACT results don’t show the same bounce schools can gain through curriculum that is aligned to the state exams giving schools the ability “to teach to the test,” Schaeffer said.

The ACT “is not manipulated so easily,” he said.

Both Missouri and Kansas are part of the national initiative to establish common core standards. Those standards place greater emphasis on college and career preparation.

The hope is that if the focus changes, test results will follow.

“It does make a difference that we’re trying to make a connection between K-12 education and college education in a way that we never have before,” said Tom Foster, director for Career, Standards and Assessment Services for the Kansas Department of Education.

The state will also look at college and career readiness as part of the accreditation. Schools must prove they are prepping students for life after high school.

It makes perfect sense to Bonner Springs High School Principal Joe Hornback. His school has made long-term gains on the Kansas Assessment, but the score matters little to graduating students.

The school pushed 19 more students to take the ACT last year knowing that it would likely lead to lower ACT scores for the district. The scores dipped slightly, but Hornback wasn’t worried.

Instead, he said, more students have an idea of where they need to improve and what type of education to look at after high school.

“The high school diploma,” he said, “can’t be a finish line.”

The Kansas City, Kan., School District plans to intensify its work by making the ACT its measuring standard for high schools instead of the Kansas Assessment.

It will be harder, but the district was frustrated with its ACT scores that did not match its celebrated gains on the state tests, said David A. Smith, the district’s chief of staff.

The unprecedented gains in state scores, though often still below state averages, earned praise from national and state officials. But then the unpleasant reality check would arrive in the mail from ACT year after year, he said.

“Our ACT scores haven’t had the same trajectory as our Kansas Assessment scores,” Smith said. “That’s a problem for us.”

His district decided last year that it would emphasize ACT tests as it once did the Kansas Assessment. Kansas City, Kan. schools received a waiver on No Child Left Behind from the state and the U.S. Department of Education. It means high school students will be focused on the ACT and its preparatory tests. Last year every junior took the test. Scores may drop at first since more students will take the ACT, but administrators believe students will be better prepared for college.

“The belief is if we focus on the ACT we’ll see the same growth,” Smith said.

Several districts did see gains in 2012, and educators hope they are on the way to sustained gains.

Liberty, for instance, is testing all of its juniors and has embedded ACT prep language throughout subject areas. Counselors in Raymore-Peculiar are guiding more students into four-year plans with higher level courses. Grandview teamed up with Center on an “ACT Bootcamp” last spring.

“At the root (of college prep success),” said Raytown Assistant Superintendent Steve Shelton, “is high quality instruction and rigorous curriculum.”

But when will a nation trying to compete against the world really move the needle on college readiness?

The gains Missouri and Kansas have made in the math and science performance of ACT are significant, said ACT spokesman Ed Colby.

The same push has occurred across several states.

“While we can feel good about the growth that we see,” he said, “there are far too many students still graduating from high school ill-prepared for success at the next level.”

ACT’s reality check

ACT college entrance exam scores released today showed a mix of ups and downs that, overall, carried on a flat line in performance gains and a persistent correlation between performance and the percentages of students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunches.

Blue Springs
Blue Springs22.623.424.2
Blue Springs South22.622.919.1
William Chrisman21.421.261.1
Van Horn17.518.076.9
Kansas City
Lee’s Summit
Lee’s Summit23.622.822.3
Lee’s Summit North23.323.319.9
Lee’s Summit West23.723.010.7
Liberty Northna23.317.1
Raytown South19.219.653.2
North Kansas City
North Kansas City21.720.852.9
Oak Park22.021.439.5
Park Hill
Park Hill23.622.925.4
Park Hill South23.723.819.0
Other schools
Alta Vista nana95.0
Cass Midway21.320.924.5
Excelsior Springs20.421.236.8
Fort Osage21.020.844.3
Frontier School16.616.285.0
Grain Valley22.122.218.5
Hogan Prep16.417.181.1
Lone Jack22.222.115.3
North Platte22.320.723.1
Oak Grove20.621.128.8
Platte County21.922.018.9
Pleasant Hill21.922.418.0
University Academy18.419.571.8
West Platte21.922.725.5
Blue Valley
BV High25.324.96.0
BV North25.425.37.9
BV Northwest24.924.76.7
BV Southwest22.424.94.5
BV West24.124.45.5
De Soto
De Soto22.122.125.0
Mill Valley23.523.18.7
Kansas City, Kan.
Olathe East24.724.116.9
Olathe North22.422.739.6
Olathe Northwest23.824.115.4
Olathe South22.923.615.0
Shawnee Mission
SM East25.225.59.1
SM North23.022.236.7
SM Northwest24.224.121.3
SM South24.123.923.0
SM West22.423.128.8
Spring Hill
Spring Hill High22.221.924.7
Insight School of Kansas19.722.6na
Other schools
Bonner Springs21.020.441.1
Easton (Pleasant Ridge)21.222.628.1
Gardner Edgerton23.123.233.5