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Former U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr. on Tuesday moderated a discussion among Louisiana educators on why Black students make up a small portion of high school students who take high school classes for college credit.

The ACT requirement is the key barrier, and an unfair one, to Black students enrolling in high school classes for college credit, education officials said Tuesday.

Black students make up 43% of Louisiana's public school population but only 27% of those taking classes for both high school and college credit, which is called dual enrollment.

"This is not the fault of students," said Jonathan Davis, an education researcher. "It is a policy failure."

Davis is a a senior research associate with The Education Trust, a non-profit group that works to narrow the opportunity gap between students of color and others.

The issue was discussed during an hour-long, virtual panel discussion called "The Role of HBCUs in Dual Enrollment," a reference to historically Black colleges and universities.

The moderator was John King Jr., former secretary for the U. S. Department of Education and now president and CEO of The Education Trust.

Louisiana has long grappled with why relatively few students take dual enrollment classes, especially compared to those in other states.

The state had about 90,000 high school juniors and seniors but less than 20,000 were enrolled in high school classes that can allow them to earn a semester or more of college credit before they arrive on campus.

"If you block students from dual enrollment you are making college more expensive for their families," said King, who served under former President Barack Obama.

The ACT has long been touted as a way to predict college success, and a way to test what students know that crosses geographic, academic and other lines.

However, some colleges are eliminating ACT and SAT requirements for admission amid complaints that many White students enjoy financial and other advantages in navigating the questions.

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Results on the ACT range from zero to 36.

Under state rules, students have to have a GPA of at least 2.5 and a composite 19 on the ACT to take a college class in high school.

They also have to earn at least a 19 on the math portion of the ACT and an 18 in English.

Davis said the average composite scores for Black students was 16.5 in 2019-20 and 20.5 for White students.

He said that, among high school seniors in Louisiana, nearly 85% of Black students do not qualify for the courses -- about 16,000 of 19,000 seniors.

A total of 56% of White seniors are ineligible.

Davis said the statistics are especially noteworthy because a student's GPA is a better indicator of college success.

Lamar Goree, superintendent of the Caddo Parish School District, said some of his schools use the recommendations of principals to get around the ACT requirement for dual enrollment.

Goree said high school leaders are sometimes so focused on boosting the graduation rate "that we forget there is opportunity on the other side of that," a reference to college.

"Policy does prevent students from accessing," he said, a reference to dual enrollment eligibility rules.

Last year a state task force co-chaired by Higher Education Commissioner Kim Hunter Reed recommended that the Louisiana Board of Regents review the ACT requirement for dual enrollment.

The panel set a state goal of all high school students gaining access to four dual enrollment classes without charge starting with the freshman class of 2025.

Advocates of dual enrollment say those who take the classes are more likely to enter and finish college and that those who take at least one such class are 10% more likely to earn a bachelor's degree.

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