"High Achievement always takes place in the framework of high expectation." - Charles Kettering

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Wisconsin Ties with NE for Third on ACT, behind MN and IA

This sounds so fabulous until you read the fine print. Of the 27 states with 50% or greater participation rate on the ACT college entrance exam, Wisconsin tied for third with Nebraska. When compared to the entire United States, Wisconsin ties for 17th with Nebraska. Click on the link below for a look see yourself. Pretty cool interactive table on the ACT website. Data!data!data! I know, I'm weird.


I'm a bit perplexed about why this 50% cut-off has been used to make it seem like Wisconsin is so fabulous on the ACT. For one thing, the average national participation on the ACT is only 47%. This is an arbitrary way to exclude the very high performing east coast states from the data pool. It's not that these students don't take college entrance exams. It's just that their local schools prefer other entrance exams like the SAT. Maybe the ones who take the ACT in Massachusetts and RI are the lower performers of those states and they still kick our butts! Wisconsin should be proud that 69% of our students take the ACT, which in the past meant they were planning post secondary education of some kind. But with the advent of MPS requiring the test as a graduation requirement, it's less indicative of students moving on to higher education. I'm not exactly sure what it's a measure of, but not what it used to be. Over the last ten years there has been a trend among states to use the ACT as a graduation requirement. In 2000, no states did this. Illinois and Colorado paved the way beginning in 2002, Michigan joined the group in 2008, Kentucky and Wyoming in 2009 and Tennessee this year. 12% of our states now have 100% participation in the ACT college entrance exam. Nationwide, from 2000-2010, the percent of students taking the ACT has increased by 47.3%. WOW! The most amazing thing to me is that the average composite score has seen only minor cyclical fluctuations despite this dramatic increase in participation. Our own state has a few districts with 100% participation: Monona Grove and Milwaukee School District, which just started this year. Others are said to be contemplating the move. However, in the time that the national participation in ACT has increased by nearly 50%, the state of Wisconsin has only increased its participation by 9.3%. Most of this increase can probably be attributed to the sheer size of MPS senior class (nearly 5000 kids. Imagine a school district so large that one class is almost as big as the town of Evansville. Of course they're spread out among many schools, but really, this is enormous). The ACT data for Individual Districts are not accessible yet because the states have to have time to enter the data. But click on the link below to see Monona Grove's reasoning for using this test as a graduation requirement. Our own district has added EXPLORE and PLAN testing to the high school curricula for the last 2 years, perhaps in an effort to emulate Monona Grove's success.


There is a big hoopla because WI scores are "the lowest since 1996." OK, here's the real story. The composite score on the ACT in WI from 2000-2006 was 22.2, from 2007-2009 it was 22.3 and in 2010 it was 22.1. Considering that the MPS senior class comprises about 10% of the entire population taking the ACT and factoring in the knowledge that the most recently available ACT results from MPS averaged a composite score of 17.2 when only 49% of the class participated (YIKES!), it's not a big stretch to attribute the 1% reduction in the WI composite score almost entirely to the MPS. Milwaukee hasn't publicized their 2010 scores due to some technical glitch, per their spokesperson. I suspect it's more like "we're so embarrassed we're putting this off as long as possible."

If you view the national ACT data over the last decade, every time another one or two states added mandatory ACT testing for their junior class, the national scores took a little dip. When CO and IL started in 2002, the national composite score dropped from 21.0 to 20.8. It took four years to recover to 21.1 in 2006. When MI came on board in 2008, there was another dip from 21.2 to 21.1. The scores stayed steady when KY and WY made ACT compulsory in 2009 and another small dip was seen from 21.1 to 21.0 when TN was added this year. It's remarkable to me that the score has remained flat considering it has been administered to all students regardless of their higher education goals in 6 states now. The addition of the scores of 30-40% of the students from these states who probably never intended to go to college has not drastically reduced the national averages. There were blips, but the average National composite ACT score bookended the first decade of the 21st century with identical scores of 21.0. But Wisconsin has a hissy fit when one set of scores from one failing school district in Wisconsin representing about 10% of all graduates causes scores to drop by 1% to "the lowest since 1996!" Spare me, please! Have patience Wisconsin. If the trends of compulsory ACT testing continues in Wisconsin, things are going to look worse before they look better. I don't know if it's a good thing or a bad thing to use the ACT as a graduation requirement. I think it's a good thing to help students learn to be successful at test taking and prepare for college through such programs as the EXPLORE and PLAN tests. If that's the upshot of declining scores, this is a good result to take from this data.

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