MADISON — Wisconsin’s participation in ACT testing jumped to 100 percent for the 2016 graduating class as the state joined 19 others that administer the college admissions exam to all public school graduates. Wisconsin’s composite score is 20.5, ranking fourth in the nation for “census testing” states.
“These results are a solid starting place,” said State Superintendent Tony Evers. “By administering the ACT as part of our statewide testing program, we are assessing for college and career readiness. That’s a high bar, but it’s what employers and postsecondary schools tell us is required for high school graduates to be successful. These results represent achievement for all students, not just those headed to college who took the ACT in prior years.”
The “Condition of College and Career Readiness” report from ACT for the 2016 graduating class includes 66,564 public and private school students in Wisconsin who took the ACT during their sophomore, junior, or senior year of high school, a 42 percent increase in participation from the prior year. For the 2015 graduating class, 46,738 students, or 73 percent of graduates, took the ACT with a composite score of 22.2. Nationally, 2,090,342 of 2016 graduates took the ACT; they represent 64 percent of graduating seniors compared to 2015 when 59 percent of graduates took the ACT. The national composite score for the class of 2016 was 20.8, down from 21.0 for the prior year’s graduates.
ACT predicted a 1.3 to 1.8 score decline for the seven additional states that funded ACT testing for all 11th-graders in 2015 as part of their statewide assessments. The testing company also indicated that the addition of more states with census rather than voluntary testing contributed to the drop in the national score, representing not a decline in student achievement, but results for a more representative student population. ACT research also shows that scores initially decrease when states adopt the ACT for all students, but the increase in access and opportunity supports continuing progress.
The “Condition of College and Career Readiness 2016” report differs from the January 2016 results for the state’s 11th-grade students who took the ACT Plus Writing in March of 2015. Those students were the first to take the college admissions exam as part of Wisconsin’s more rigorous statewide testing program. Comparisons of the two groups are inaccurate, in part because a significant portion of the class of 2016 took the ACT more than once.
ACT reports that 63.4 percent of Wisconsin’s 2016 graduates took the ACT just once in high school with an average composite score of 19.0. With each re-take of the ACT, 2016 graduates’ average composite score improved. Those repeating the ACT a second time had an average composite score of 22.8. The 9.5 percent of 2016 state graduates took the ACT a third time had an average composite score of 23.7. Four-time takers had an average composite score of 24.5, and the 609 state students who took the ACT more than four times had an average composite score of 24.9.
ACT has established college-readiness benchmark scores, which if attained for the particular subject test represent a 75 percent chance or better of a student earning a “C” or better in credit-bearing college coursework. Overall, 60 percent of 2016 graduates earned the benchmark score of 18 or better in English. For both mathematics and reading, 41 percent of graduates earned benchmark scores of 22. In science, 37 percent of the state’s 2016 graduates earned the benchmark score of 23. Overall, 25 percent of graduates earned benchmark scores in all four subjects. Wisconsin had 19 percent of graduates earning a STEM benchmark of 26, a combined science and mathematics result that measure college readiness for coursework in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.
Census testing drew significant increases in participation for all subgroups of students by race and ethnicity. Students of color made up 23.1 percent of the tested population for 2016 graduates. The largest percentage increases were for American Indian and Hispanic students.
“We have made a commitment to access and opportunity for all students,” Evers said. “Our schools must ensure that our graduates are ready to seize those opportunities.”
Achievement gaps for students by racial and ethnic groups remained apparent in Wisconsin for ACT subject test scores, college-readiness benchmark scores, and course-taking patterns. Overall, 55 percent of the state’s 2016 graduates said they planned to take the recommended college-preparatory curriculum of four years of English and three years each of mathematics, science, and social studies. This percentage was lower for most racial and ethnic groups. (See attached table.) The overall “core curriculum” reporting is 14 percentage points lower than for 2016 graduates nationally (69 percent) and 17 points lower than for Wisconsin’s 2015 graduating class (72 percent). The difference in scores between students who took fewer college-preparatory courses and those who took a core curriculum averaged 3.9 points over the four subject area tests.
“ACT results for our 2016 graduates represent the most comprehensive look at college and career readiness we have ever seen,” Evers said. “By testing all public school students we are opening the doors to opportunities for college and careers.”
The ACT is scored on a scale of one to 36 and consists of five subject area tests: English, reading, writing, mathematics, and science.