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ACT Scores Drop In Kentucky, In Line With National Trend

Hand completing a multiple choice exam.
Hand completing a multiple choice exam.

Data released by the ACT testing company earlier this week show that the average composite scores for Kentucky students dropped last school year, roughly following a nationwide trend.

The ACT is a college entrance exam used to test students' subject knowledge in English, math, science and reading. In Kentucky, all high school juniors are required to take the test.

The percentage of Kentucky students in the graduating class of 2019 who met national benchmarks in all subject areas dropped by two percentage points compared to the previous year. Composite scores declined from 19.9 in 2018 to 19.8 in 2019.

“I am disappointed to see declines in all subject areas and composite scores,” said Kentucky Education Commissioner Wayne Lewis.

"Given that we're in an environment and an economy where post-secondary training and education are critical, we have to pay really serious attention to how well our students are prepared for these assessments," Lewis said.

Lewis said he would like to see Kentucky students ACT scores rise or "at the very least hold steady" over time.

The trend in Kentucky scores roughly follows the national trend for how students across the country scored in each of the last five years. Lewis said state education officials could not rule out the possibility that the most recent drop might be caused by year-to-year variations in the test.

Overall, Kentucky students tend to score lower than the national average on the ACT. This can be attributed in part to the fact that all Kentucky high school juniors are required to take the test, while in most states the test is voluntary. The average composite score for Kentucky students in the 2019 graduating class was better than or equal to the average scores in 10 of the 15 states that require all 11th graders to participate in the test.

Why ACT Scores Matter

The ACT is first and foremost a college entrance exam, and the scores are an important part of many students' college applications. The Kentucky Department of Education has also used the results as an integral data point in the statewide school accountability system for high schools.

The current Kentucky school accountability system uses high school students' ACT scores as the measure of student's proficiency in math and reading, a key metric in the new 5-star rating schools receive in the Kentucky School Report Card. Those ACT-based proficiency scores are also a major factor in determining which schools fall into the bottom 5 percent statewide last school year and now qualify forComprehensive Support and Improvement — a category that confers additional funding, support and monitoring for these low-performing schools.

All that will soon change. This spring, high school juniors will take new state standardized tests geared toward Kentucky educational standards that will serve for the proficiency scores in next year's accountability rankings.

Kentucky's school accountability system also uses ACT scores as one factor in a measure of high school students' college and career readiness — and will continue to do so.

Correction: An initial version of this story misstated the composite ACT score, based on incorrect information from the Kentucky Department of Education. 

Liz Schlemmer is WFPL's Education and Learning Reporter.

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