Chasing the lofty goal of the national average does not sound like much, but the fact is that Louisiana students are making measurable progress toward respectability in educational rankings.
The latest report from ACT, the Iowa-based national organization administering a college admissions test, ranked Louisiana students 44th nationally. That means a composite score of the various parts of the test at 19.5 out of a possible 36.
But within this broad number are some positive results.
The national number is based on the states where fewer students take the voluntary test, but there are now 18 states – like Louisiana – where basically every student takes the ACT.
Compared with the other 17 states, Louisiana ranks 13th, state Superintendent of Education John White said. That’s ahead of Alabama, North Carolina, South Carolina, Mississippi and Nevada.
“Should we be satisfied with 13th? Absolutely not. Does it represent real progress? Absolutely it does,” White said.
The ACT measures high school students' proficiency in English, math, reading and science. While it is a college admissions test, and some educators argue that’s not the best measurement of a student’s progress, it is widely taken and obviously generates comparable results in states where a similar population of students take it.
White said the state was near the bottom of the list nationally before the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education in 2012 mandated the ACT for all students, and provided funding through the Department of Education for those who cannot afford the modest fee for the test.
He said when the state is compared with those where all students take the test, it is in the 30th percentile.
That’s still far from the top: Massachusetts leads the nation with an average composite score of 24.8. But one of the arguments for requiring the ACT is that it gives students entrée to increasingly important options after high school, particularly community colleges and technical schools.
While students aiming for a four-year college will essentially automatically take the ACT, because it qualifies students for TOPS tuition waivers, the ACT is also used for TOPS awards at the level of two-year schools. The theory is that if students do well on the ACT, they are encouraged to seek out their options that they might otherwise not have considered.
“Our state is growing while the nation's performance is stagnating,” White said. “Reading through the ACT's report it is evident that high schools and the educators and students of Louisiana have made extraordinary strides in recent years.”
The highest scoring districts in Louisiana are St. Tammany, 21.5; West Feliciana, 21.4; and Zachary, 21.3.
In New Orleans, share of students scoring 20 or higher on the ACT (a requirement for TOPS 4-year scholarships) fell a bit from 38 percent to 35 percent. The state average remained flat at 45 percent, according to an analysis from Educate Now!, the policy group. That is something of a pause in the recent progress of schools there.
That’s also quite a long way from Massachusetts levels and of course many students and thus, school systems, are not there yet. But incremental progress ought to be celebrated, as the opportunities for individual students increase as ACT scores do.