ACT scores drop amid expanded test pool

Louisiana’s performance on a national test of college readiness plummeted this year, finishing ahead of only Mississippi and North Carolina.

But state Superintendent of Education John White said Tuesday the drop stems from a new rule that requires all high school seniors to take the exam, which is called the ACT.

“I would have to say that it is remarkable that we have the smallest decline of any state to make this move,” White said.

Other states that require all students to take the test produced sharper drops initially.

The latest results show that the average composite score for public and private school students here is 19.5, down from 20.3 last year.

The drop is noticeable since gains or declines on the ACT are usually measured in tenths of a point.

The national average is 20.9 out of 36.

The test reflects how students fared on questions about math, English, reading and science.

Only students in Mississippi and North Carolina produced lower composite scores, 18.9 and 18.7 respectively.

Tennessee finished with the same score as Louisiana, which has long trailed much of the nation in its ACT results.

More than 45,000 students in the class of 2013 took the test this year, up nearly 8,600 students compared to 2012.

White was emphatic in saying that, since all public high school seniors are required to take the test, this year’s drop is less than expected and far outweighed by long-term education gains.

The superintendent on July 17 announced that nearly 3,600 additional public high school seniors scored well enough on the ACT to earn admission to a college in Louisiana without remediation.

“They are going to technical colleges, they are going to community colleges and they are going to four-year universities,” White said. “That is worth a small change in our overall score.”

Ed Colby, a spokesman for the ACT in Iowa City, Iowa, said the drop in Louisiana can be explained and does not reflect a sudden nosedive in student achievement.

“I wouldn’t say it is a good thing.” Colby said of the score. “But it is explained by the expanded pool of test takers.”

However, the requirement that all public high school seniors take the ACT continues to spark controversy.

Opponents contend that it makes little sense for students who have no plans to attend college to take the test, especially since many of those students have little incentive to do well.

Scott Richard, executive director of the Louisiana School Boards Association, said the drop points out the need for White’s agency to push for improvements in the ACT results “and not gig school boards and school systems with labels.

“There are no two ways about it: The composite dropped,” Richard said.

In addition, the superintendents of several high-achieving school districts, including the Central and West Feliciana Parish school systems, have said they expect the expanded ACT requirement to cause scores for some high schools to drop this year.

Under new rules, ACT results will count for 25 percent of the score that makes up each school’s state-issued letter grade.

White has repeatedly disputed those predictions.

“Letter grade distribution will remain steady,” he said Tuesday.

Mindful of the ACT drop, the state Department of Education issued a “fact sheet” that showed Louisiana’s score this year was less precipitous than other states that required all students to take the test.

The composite score declines in Kentucky, Illinois and Colorado were 1.5 points.

Scores in Michigan dipped 1.9 points initially.

Officials of the Scott S. Cowen Institute for Public Education Initiatives at Tulane University said the 25 percent increase in test takers masks significant progress.

“Based on the data, more students are graduating Louisiana high schools prepared for rigorous college level courses,” wrote Deb Vaughan, director of research for the group.