Alabama’s graduating high schoolers of 2019 had an overall lower performance on the ACT standardized test for the second year in a row, according to the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama. But not by much.
The ACT, which is a nationally administered test of college readiness, is used by colleges to evaluate students’ qualifications for admission. PARCA’s 2019 report uses data from students who graduated from public high school in 2019. Alabama high schools offer the ACT to all junior students, so the 2019 data is for students who took the standardized test in 2018, as well as any students who retook it their senior year of high school.
PARCA’s report, which uses data obtained from Alabama State Department of Education and the ACT’s 2019 report on the conditions of college and career readiness, shows that the 2019 average composite score for the standardized test is 18.9, out of a total possible of 36 points. Over the past 5 years, Alabama’s composite average has stayed within a 0.4-point range, with a low score of 18.8 in 2016 and a high of 19.2 in 2017.
State Superintendent of Education Eric Mackey said the 0.4 range over the past five years is not significant. “We’ve essentially statistically plateaued” Mackey said.
According to Don Dailey, a senior research associate at PARCA, Alabama’s average resembles national results. “Nationally, there is a downward trend,” he said. According to the ACT 2019 report on the condition of college and career readiness, last year’s national average was 20.7, down by 0.1 from 2018.
“The decrease is not especially significant,” Dailey said, referring to Alabama’s average. “Though it is a bit of an oddity since all of the individual subject test scores have mostly stayed the same or slightly increased.”
Individual test score averages in English, math and science all increased by 0.1 from 2018 to 2019, while the state’s average reading score remained the same. Dailey noted that the discrepancy between the composite change and individual score changes is possibly due to some test-takers not finishing the entirety of their tests, which would result in them not receiving a composite score.
Alabama is one of 17 states that require all junior high school students to take the ACT regardless of whether they plan to apply to college. Out of these 17 states, Alabama ranks 14th. The average score for these “100 percent states” is 19.5.
Dailey believes that Alabama’s use of mandatory ACT testing impacts the state’s average because it takes all high school students into account. “The scores could be different if you only had students who are really serious about college taking the test.”
According to Mackey, test results are also affected by how many times students retake the ACT. PARCA uses data from students’ highest scores, so if a student were to take the ACT twice and score higher the second time, the data from that second test and not the first would be factored into the data.
“Statistically, there’s great value in taking the test a second time,” Mackay said. “There’s been a real push in our department regarding how to convince young people to retake the test.”
Along with composite scores, the ACT also has established benchmark scores for college readiness. College readiness is measured by the likelihood of earning a B or higher in a first-year college course for each subject, so an 18 on the English section indicates that a student will have a 50% or greater likelihood of earning a B in their first-year college English class.
For specific 2019 college readiness scores, 50.2% of graduating high schoolers were determined to be college ready for English, 35.5% for reading, 26.6% for science and 23.0% for math. According to PARCA, 17.1% of Alabama’s 2019 graduates meet the ACT’s college readiness score for all subjects tested on the ACT combined. This total score is up by 1.6% from 2018.
Out of the total 138 school systems in Alabama, Mountain Brook was the top-scoring system, with an average ACT score of 27.4, while Bullock County was the lowest, with an average score of 14.5. According to PARCA, 56 of these school systems had higher average composite ACT scores than they did five years prior. The Homewood city system, which reported an average composite of 22.80 in 2015 and a score of 24.15 in 2019, had the largest increase in that five-year range of all Alabama school systems.
PARCA also indicated that individual schools showed significant increases in their average ACT composite scores. Northridge High School in the Tuscaloosa city system had the highest increase of any high school in the state, with an average composite of 19.9 in 2015 and 22.2 in 2019.
Dailey noted that some school systems, including the Winfield and Oneonta city systems, have made what he calls “nice increases” in their average scores. “You look at some of these, and they’re doing a lot better than other systems that have less poverty” said Dailey. “They seem to be exceeding what you would expect.”