Education Week - August 31, 2016 - 8
ACT Scores Dip as Participation Swells
By Liana Heitin
Average ACT scores have taken a
dip, in part because the number of
students taking the college-readiness
exam rose signiﬁcantly this year, according to a new report from the Iowa
City, Iowa-based testing company.
The decline in scores is not unexpected, say company representatives,
because more states have begun requiring all 11th graders to take the
test-so an increasingly diverse group
of students is now receiving results.
"When you go from a self-selected
to a [fully] tested population, you're
likely adding less academically able
students," said Paul Weeks, the
company's senior vice president for
client services. "When you look at
the impact, it's pulling scores down
a little bit."
The score decline is also not as
sharp as it could have been, some
said. The average composite score
went from 21 in 2015 to 20.8 in 2016
(on a scale of 1 to 36). That's a slight
but statistically signiﬁcant drop.
"For an individual tester, even a
full 1-point difference on a test could
be the kid next to you has a cold
and distracted you-it's statistical
noise, within the standard error of
measurement," said Adam Ingersoll,
the founder and principal of Compass Education Group, a tutoring
and test-preparation company. "But
with national populations, almost
any tick has some meaning."
Sixty-four percent of 2016's graduating seniors-or about 2.1 million
students-took the college-readiness
exam, up from 59 percent in 2015.
The ACT has had more test-takers
than the SAT, its main competitor,
since 2011. (The trend is expected to
continue when results from the 2016
SAT are out next month.)
The percentage of students meeting
the college-readiness benchmarks,
which ACT says indicates a student
has about a 50 percent chance of
earning at least a B in a first-year
college course, went down in all four
subject areas-English, reading,
math, and science. The biggest drop
was in English, in which 61 percent
of students met the benchmark, down
from 64 percent a year ago.
In 2015, 31 percent of students did
not meet the college-readiness benchmarks in any of the four subject areas.
That percentage is now up to 34.
Seven more states-Alaska,
Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri,
Nevada, South Carolina, and Wisconsin-began requiring all 11th
graders to take the test for the ﬁrst
time in this report, according to the
ACT, bringing the total of fully tested
states up to 20. (Some states are now
using the test in place of other exams
aligned to the Common Core State
In all those new states, average
composite scores declined. Weeks
says an initial drop in scores is typical when a state goes to a fully tested
"But then we see a gradual return,"
he said, pointing to Kentucky, where
scores started to rebound after a few
years of testing all students.
In another 22 states, composite
scores increased this year compared
Achievement Gaps Remain
Ingersoll said it's important to remember that the changes in results
don't actually indicate much about
how students and schools are doing
"The pool of testers is changing
so radically," he said. "You'd need to
have consecutive years with the [demographic] pool staying the same before you can draw conclusions." Even
then, he added, it would be tough to
Among black students, performance has been relatively ﬂat over
the past ﬁve years, while the number of students tested has gone up.
For Hispanic students, average
scores have dropped slightly-by
one-ﬁfth of a point-over the same
time period, while the number of
test-takers has risen dramatically,
by 44 percent.
"Given that expansion of the testing pool often leads to substantial
drops in scores, these trends repre-
By Sarah D. Sparks
Academic gaps between the
wealthiest and poorest students
tend to narrow from fall to spring
of kindergarten year. But in 2010,
income-related gaps started smaller
and narrowed more than in 1998.
Math Achievement Gap (Standard Deviations)
Composite Average ACT Scores
Number of Students Tested
SOURCE: ACT, Inc.
sent distinct success stories," says
the ACT report. And because of the
increased numbers of test-takers,
thousands more black and Hispanic
students are being identified as
ready for college-level coursework
than have been previously, it says.
But major achievement gaps remain between African-American
and Hispanic students and their
white and Asian counterparts.
Just 11 percent of African-American students and 23 percent of
Hispanic students met collegereadiness benchmarks in three or
four subjects this year. For white
students, about half met the benchmarks.
In addition, the report found that
disparities between high- and lowincome students may be growing.
Over the past three years, composite
scores for students with a family income of $80,000 or higher increased,
while scores dropped for students
with family incomes below that.
Visit the CURRICULUM MATTERS blog, which
tracks news and trends on this issue.
Are Poor Students More Ready for Kindergarten?
CHANGES IN SCORES VS. NUMBERS OF TEST-TAKERS
SOURCE: "Recent Trends in Income, Racial,
and Ethnic School Readiness Gaps at Kindergarten
Entry," AERA Open
For decades, as wealthy parents invested
more and more time and money on enrichment for their young children, students in
poverty fell further and further behind.
New research, however, suggests that the
trend is changing: The children starting their
ﬁrst days of kindergarten may arrive better
prepared than prior generations-and students in poverty will arrive at less of a disadvantage compared with their wealthier peers.
Income and racial gaps in school readiness
closed signiﬁcantly between 1998 and 2010,
according to studies in a special issue of AERA
Open, a journal of the American Educational
Researchers Sean F. Reardon of Stanford
University and Ximena A. Portilla of the
research ﬁrm MDRC compared data for nationally representative samples of more than
40,000 children who started kindergarten in
1998, 2006, and 2010. They found that during that period, children from both the poorest 10 percent of families and those from the
wealthiest 10 percent of families improved in
early-reading and -math assessments-but
students in poverty made larger improvements. As a result, poor students closed academic gaps with wealthy peers by 10 percent
in early math and 16 percent in early reading.
"I think what's surprising is that the income
gap has narrowed ... when some of the underlying conditions-growing income equality
and residential segregation-have continued
unabated," Reardon said.
Racial gaps also narrowed during the same
time. Hispanic students reduced their readiness gap with white students by 14 percent.
8 | EDUCATION WEEK | August 31, 2016 | www.edweek.org
The school-readiness gap between black and
white students also stopped widening, though
the study was not able to determine whether
it had closed signiﬁcantly. However, the students' teachers reported 30 percent smaller
gaps between black and white students on
measures of students' self-control and positive
approaches to learning.
Poor students kept their gains at least
through 4th grade, according to reading and
math results from the National Assessment
of Educational Progress, but the gaps did not
continue to close after children entered school,
The closing academic gaps, he said, are "not
because schools are getting more equal, but because something in early childhood is becoming
more equal," Reardon said. "It would be great if
you could have both, but we do have one."
That equalizer appears to be parents themselves, Reardon and his colleagues found.
Rising Parent Involvement
From the national Reading is Fundamental
push to the First Five California effort, public-awareness campaigns in the past decade
have focused on teaching parents and earlychildhood educators about evolving research
on how very young children learn.
"In general, what we're learning is parents
are getting the message that these early years
are important," said Rebecca Parlakian, the
senior director of programs at Zero to Three,
a nonproﬁt early-education-advocacy group,
who was not associated with the studies. "I see
it as a positive sign."
Young children in general-and poor children in particular-are getting more enrich-
ing attention from their parents and using
a wider array of free educational resources,
ﬁnds a related study in the same issue.
Daphna Bassok, an associate professor at the
University of Virginia's Curry School of Education, and her colleagues tracked the home
and school experiences in the same group of
children that Reardon studied, participants in
several long-term federal education surveys.
"Parental investments have gone up quite a
bit," Bassok said. "Parents are more likely to
report reading to their kids, playing with their
kids, taking them on outings to the library or
Low-income parents were about twice as
likely in 2010 as in 1998 to say their preschoolers used computers for learning and to
access the internet. That could be a sign that
the "digital divide" caused by earlier use of
technology among wealthier families is starting to equalize, Reardon said.
Bassok noted that a growing number of free
computer applications and public-television children's shows, such as the Ready to Learn initiative, are used by parents at all income levels.
The gaps remain daunting in spite of the
progress. "We also have to remember: What
it means to be prepared for school is a moving
target," Parlakian said. "Would I have been
prepared for kindergarten today? No. Because the expectations for kindergarten have
School readiness gaps between poor and
wealthy students closed only about half
as quickly as they opened in the 1970s and
1980s. If they continue to close at the current
rate, it could be another century before poor
and wealthy students start school equally
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Education Week - August 31, 2016
Education Week - August 31, 2016
Calls to Halt Charters Stir Friction
Head Start Benefits Underscored
Efforts to Boost Teacher Diversity Seen Falling Short
Digital Directions: 1-to-1 Computing Under Microscope in Maine Schools
News in Brief
Back to School: Taking the Public’s Pulse
U.S. State Department Tackles Gender Gap in Stem Participation
Act Scores Dip as Participation Swells
Are Poor Students More Ready for Kindergarten?
Teacher-Tenure Battles Continue After Vergara
Judge Blocks Guidance on Transgender Rights
Reading the Tea Leaves in Advance of Essa Funding Rules
Q&A: With Christopher Emdin
Q&A: Talking K-12 With a Force in the House Gop
Howard Fuller: The Naacp Has It Wrong
Milton Chen & Jonathan B. Jarvis: 100 Years Old, Our National Parks Are the Best Outdoor Classrooms
Topschooljobs Recruitment Marketplace
David E. Dematthews: The Principal as Community Advocate
Education Week - August 31, 2016 - Digital Directions: 1-to-1 Computing Under Microscope in Maine Schools
Education Week - August 31, 2016 - 2
Education Week - August 31, 2016 - 3
Education Week - August 31, 2016 - News in Brief
Education Week - August 31, 2016 - Report Roundup
Education Week - August 31, 2016 - Back to School: Taking the Public’s Pulse
Education Week - August 31, 2016 - U.S. State Department Tackles Gender Gap in Stem Participation
Education Week - August 31, 2016 - Are Poor Students More Ready for Kindergarten?
Education Week - August 31, 2016 - Teacher-Tenure Battles Continue After Vergara
Education Week - August 31, 2016 - 10
Education Week - August 31, 2016 - 11
Education Week - August 31, 2016 - 12
Education Week - August 31, 2016 - 13
Education Week - August 31, 2016 - 14
Education Week - August 31, 2016 - 15
Education Week - August 31, 2016 - Reading the Tea Leaves in Advance of Essa Funding Rules
Education Week - August 31, 2016 - Q&A: Talking K-12 With a Force in the House Gop
Education Week - August 31, 2016 - Howard Fuller: The Naacp Has It Wrong
Education Week - August 31, 2016 - Milton Chen & Jonathan B. Jarvis: 100 Years Old, Our National Parks Are the Best Outdoor Classrooms
Education Week - August 31, 2016 - 20
Education Week - August 31, 2016 - Letters
Education Week - August 31, 2016 - Topschooljobs Recruitment Marketplace
Education Week - August 31, 2016 - 23
Education Week - August 31, 2016 - David E. Dematthews: The Principal as Community Advocate
Education Week - August 31, 2016 - CT1
Education Week - August 31, 2016 - CT2
Education Week - August 31, 2016 - CT3
Education Week - August 31, 2016 - CT4