- NC requires all 11th-graders to take ACT exams
- WCPSS results: only one in four students ready for college
- System lacks accountability, lacks the ability to improve
The ability to succeed in higher education – as defined by college readiness – has been one of the stated goals of the State Board of Education for every student in North Carolina.
Beginning in 2012-13, North Carolina began requiring all eleventh-graders to take the ACT College Admissions Assessment. Test results became part of the state’s school accountability program and have been used to assess college readiness.
The ACT is administered in March across all 115 School Systems and charter schools in North Carolina. In 2015-16, 99,100 students took the ACT. The test is made up of a composite score (1-36) as well as subtests in English, math, reading and science. There is also a writing subtest.
Test Scores Statewide and in Key Districts
Results for the 2015-16 ACT test were released in the summer by the Department of Public Instruction. Recently, after an analysis of the test results, The Charlotte Observer reported only one school in the Charlotte Mecklenburg School District (CMS) had a majority of students that met all four benchmarks in English, math, science and reading. Meeting all four benchmarks indicates a high probability of success in college.
Across CMS, a disappointing 20.2 percent of students met all four marks. This compares with a statewide number of 15.4 percent that met all four benchmarks. In addition, CMS students generated a composite mean ACT score of 18.9, compared to a state ACT composite of 18.6.
So how did the largest school district in the state, Wake County Public Schools (WCPSS), perform on the ACT?
Approximately, 10,295 WCPSS students took the ACT exam in 2015-16. WCPSS students produced a composite mean score of 20.2, which was higher than both the state composite mean (18.6) and the CMS composite mean (18.9).
The percentage of WCPSS students that met all four benchmarks was 26.3 percent. Again this was higher than the state percentage (15.4 percent) and the CMS percentage (20.2 percent). That means that approximately one in four students graduating from WCPSS are college ready. While that number is better than the state average and the averages from a good many districts, it still suggests – by the state’s own standards – a staggering three in four students are not college ready.
While CMS had one school (Providence High) where a majority of students met all four benchmarks, WCPSS had two high schools, Green Hope High School (53.3 percent) and Wake STEM Early College High School (64.7 percent), where over half the students met all four benchmarks.
On the negative side, six of 28 WCPSS high schools had composite means below the state mean of 15.4 percent. Nine of 32 CMS high schools had scores below the state mean.
ACT scores for charter schools were also reported in the data.
For CMS, three of four charter school scores exceeded the state composite mean of 15.4 percent of students that met all four benchmarks. For WCPSS, five of six charter schools exceed the state composite mean.
As previously stated, North Carolina has required all 11th graders to take the ACT exam since 2012-13. State composite mean scores have increased very slightly over that period, rising from 18.4 to 18.6. In addition, the percentage of students who meet all four benchmarks has also risen slightly increasing, from 14.3 to 15.4 percent.
Over the same period, CMS students raised their state composite scores from 18.5 to 18.9; the percentage of students meeting all four benchmarks also rose, from 17.1 to 20.2 percent. With regard to WCPSS trendlines, composite mean scores for WCPSS students stayed the same (20.2) over the period, while the percentage of WCPSS students who met all four benchmarks over the same period increased slightly, from 23.9 percent to 26.3 percent.
What the Data Show
It’s easy to get lost in the data. The real question is: what does it all mean?
CMS and WCPSS results both give reasons to be happy in a relative sense. However, when you put results in perspective the satisfaction evaporates. State composite scores and the percentage of students meeting all four benchmarks have had at best modest increases. WCPSS composite scores – while better than the state average – have been flat since 2012-13. In addition, only one in four students is college ready.
If such results were produced by a corporation, the CEO would be fired. Not here. Despite the never-ending train of state and federal efforts to improve schools and improve student proficiency – No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, Common Core, to name a few – the results are not acceptable. So who needs to be held responsible and accountable for this dismal performance? The State Board of Education? State Superintendent of Instruction June Atkinson? Local school boards? Parents? Teachers? The students themselves? The lack of collective anger and focus in response to these results is part of the problem.
Lastly, the current results also tell us that students aren’t learning what they need to and even when they don’t, they are still getting passed on to the next grade level. This leaves us with a K-8 problem, a high school problem, and eventually a college problem. For a number of years it’s been out of fashion to hold a child back if he or she is academically not ready for the next grade level. The thinking is the damage to the child’s emotional development outweighs the resulting academic problems. I disagree. If we fail to change, we’ll soon have a society that will be unable to know the difference.