Another year of low ACT scores for black and Hispanic students prompts calls for change

Year after year, ACT scores in Indiana look pretty much same: Hoosier high school students usually score slightly better than their peers across the nation on the college admissions exam — but black and Hispanic students still lag behind their white peers.

Since 2007, black students have scored several points lower, on average, than every other ethnic group in the state, according to state data.

And the problem hasn’t gone unnoticed. Teresa Lubbers, Indiana’s Commissioner for Higher Education, said the differences show that reporting scores isn’t enough — the state must be more involved if there’s to be any improvement.

“If we are serious about closing the achievement gap, we must do more than simply gather and disaggregate student data by race and ethnicity,” Lubbers said. “We must also use that information to advance policies that give all students the support they need be successful in college and their careers.”

The commission already has programs in place to make sure kids are on track in high school, as well its 21st Century Scholars program where kids can earn four years of college tuition. The state is also in the process of updating its high school diplomas in an effort to increase expectations and rigor.

Compared to last year, Indiana high school graduates who took the ACT in 2016 did slightly better, and their average score is the same as where the state stood in 2010, 2011 and 2012. And while black and hispanic students scored lower on average, their scores, too, have remained consistent for years.

ACT breaks down student scores based on high school coursework. For students who earned Indiana’s more rigorous Core 40 diploma, average scores were 18 out of a possible 36 points for black students. The average score for Hispanic students was , 20.6 and for white students, the average score was 23.5.

Students who earned Indiana’s less rigorous general diploma, average scores were 17.1 for black students, 19.3 for Hispanic students and 22 for white students.

Average scores for all students increased by 0.2 points to 22.3 from 22.1, which is above the national average of 20.8.

For 2016, 27,268 students took the college entrance exam, fewer than half of all high school graduates in the state that year and 147 fewer than in 2015.

But because so few students take the test, it can be difficult to use the scores to compare Indiana to other states.

Read more about how Indiana students did on the ACT in this 2016 summary and the more detailed state score profile.

ASD scores

In Tennessee’s turnaround district, 9 in 10 young students fall short on their first TNReady exams

PHOTO: Scott Elliott

Nine out of 10 of elementary- and middle-school students in Tennessee’s turnaround district aren’t scoring on grade level in English and math, according to test score data released Thursday.

The news is unsurprising: The Achievement School District oversees 32 of the state’s lowest-performing schools. But it offers yet another piece of evidence that the turnaround initiative has fallen far short of its ambitious original goal of vaulting struggling schools to success.

Around 5,300 students in grades 3-8 in ASD schools took the new, harder state exam, TNReady, last spring. Here’s how many scored “below” or “approaching,” meaning they did not meet the state’s standards:

  • 91.8 percent of students in English language arts;
  • 91.5 percent in math;
  • 77.9 percent in science.

View scores for all ASD schools in our spreadsheet

In all cases, ASD schools’ scores fell short of state averages, which were all lower than in the past because of the new exam’s higher standards. About 66 percent of students statewide weren’t on grade level in English language arts, 62 percent weren’t on grade level in math, and 41 percent fell short in science.

ASD schools also performed slightly worse, on average, than the 15 elementary and middle schools in Shelby County Schools’ Innovation Zone, the district’s own initiative for low-performing schools. On average, about 89 percent of iZone students in 3-8 weren’t on grade level in English; 84 percent fell short of the state’s standards in math.

The last time that elementary and middle schools across the state received test scores, in 2015, ASD schools posted scores showing faster-than-average improvement. (Last year’s tests for grades 3-8 were canceled because of technical problems.)

The low scores released today suggest that the ASD’s successes with TCAP, the 2015 exam, did not carry over to the higher standards of TNReady.

But Verna Ruffin, the district’s new chief of academics, said the scores set a new bar for future growth and warned against comparing them to previous results.

“TNReady has more challenging questions and is based on a different, more rigorous set of expectations developed by Tennessee educators,” Ruffin said in a statement. “For the Achievement School District, this means that we will use this new baseline data to inform instructional practices and strategically meet the needs of our students and staff as we acknowledge the areas of strength and those areas for improvement.”

Some ASD schools broke the mold and posted some strong results. Humes Preparatory Middle School, for example, had nearly half of students meet or exceed the state’s standards in science, although only 7 percent of students in math and 12 percent in reading were on grade level.

Thursday’s score release also included individual high school level scores. View scores for individual schools throughout the state as part of our spreadsheet here.

Are Children Learning

School-by-school TNReady scores for 2017 are out now. See how your school performed

PHOTO: Zondra Williams/Shelby County Schools
Students at Wells Station Elementary School in Memphis hold a pep rally before the launch of state tests, which took place between April 17 and May 5 across Tennessee.

Nearly six months after Tennessee students sat down for their end-of-year exams, all of the scores are now out. State officials released the final installment Thursday, offering up detailed information about scores for each school in the state.

Only about a third of students met the state’s English standards, and performance in math was not much better, according to scores released in August.

The new data illuminates how each school fared in the ongoing shift to higher standards. Statewide, scores for students in grades 3-8, the first since last year’s TNReady exam was canceled amid technical difficulties, were lower than in the past. Scores also remained low in the second year of high school tests.

“These results show us both where we can learn from schools that are excelling and where we have specific schools or student groups that need better support to help them achieve success – so they graduate from high school with the ability to choose their path in life,” Education Commissioner Candice McQueen said in a statement.

Did some schools prepare teachers and students better for the new state standards, which are similar to the Common Core? Was Memphis’s score drop distributed evenly across the city’s schools? We’ll be looking at the data today to try to answer those questions.

Check out all of the scores in our spreadsheet or on the state website and add your questions and insights in the comments.