ACT scores spark new dispute

New state test rules will cause grades for public high schools to plummet in a barrage of zeroes, some educators say.

But state Superintendent of Education John White on Friday vehemently disputed those views and said critics are misreading the requirements.

The dispute stems from White’s announcement on Wednesday that the number of public high school seniors who qualified for college without the need for remedial work rose by 20 percent, or nearly 3,600 seniors.

Louisiana has a new rule that requires all high school juniors to take the ACT, which measures college readiness, and achieve a modest score of at least 18 out of 36.

But that requirement is going to cause state-issued grades for public high schools to nosedive because thousands of students who scored below 18 will get zeroes, critics said.

ACT scores now are now a key part of the calculation for a high school’s performance measure.

Scott Richard, executive director of the Louisiana School Boards Association, said he understands why White made the announcement with some fanfare.

But Richard and others said 7,400 or so other students who scored less than 18 will have a major, negative impact on grades for high schools this fall.

“The flip side is going to be a serious concern for school districts, especially high schools and their school performance scores and letter grades,” Richard said.

State Rep. J. Rogers Pope, R-Denham Springs and former superintendent of the Livingston Parish school system, agreed.

“The school performance scores for high schools are going to be lower,” Pope said. “Not all of them, but a large percentage will be because of the ACT.”

White said letter grades for high schools will not show marked drops this year because of the new ACT rules or anything else. “The most important point here is we have nearly 4,000 kids who now have a chance to go to college and didn’t before,” White said.

“And still the adults want to sit around and talk about whether they benefit or not,” White added. “I mean, I don’t get it.”

The dispute stems from a state policy announced 15 months ago.

About 75 percent of high school students took the ACT before this year.

The exam is scored on a scale of 1-36, and students get a composite score that represents an average of their reading, English, math and science skills.

Under the new rules, students have to score at least 18 on the ACT, which then accounts for 25 percent of the high school score that shapes its state-issued grade.

A score of 18 puts students in the 34th percentile, which means they scored better than 34 percent of others who took the test.

White said 18 is the cutoff because that is what Louisiana colleges and universities generally require for students to avoid remediation.

But Richard, Pope and others said department policy is crystal clear: Students who fail to score at least an 18 will get zeroes on the ACT portion of the school performance score.

“That is our most serious concern,” Richard said.

West Feliciana Parish Superintendent Hollis Milton said he thinks the grade for West Feliciana High School will drop from an A to a B this year, mostly because of the new ACT requirements.

“Why can’t we sit down and vet the accountability process, including the ACT?” Milton asked.

White said Richard and others are misreading how the state calculates public high school scores.

He said department officials crafted a formula to account for the knowledge that lots of students would score less than 18 on the ACT initially.

White said even students who score below 18 get “bonus points” if they show improvements on the ACT compared with how they fared on pre-ACT tests in earlier grades.

“The formula anticipates that a certain number of kids won’t get 18,” he said. “We knew that.”

Michael Faulk, superintendent of the Central school system, said Friday some districts do not offer the pre-ACT test, like the one White cited, that can aid schools when students scored less than 18.

Earlier this year a bill that would have scuttled the impact of ACT scores on high school grades passed the House but died in a Senate committee.

“Any type of change requires transition time,” said Richard, whose group backed the measure.

White said concerns by adults on whether a high school earns an A or a B are misdirected.

“Is it more important that one school have an A on its letter grade or that 4,000 kids can now go to college?” White said.