desk stock file photo school

During a tour of the West Jefferson High School with coronavirus precautions it can be seen that each desk in the classroom has a grey or red sticker on the top corner in Harvey, La. Wednesday, Aug. 19, 2020. Each period, students will be asked to alternate their use of desks and to clean them off after each class. The school is scheduled to open on August 26. (Photo by Max Becherer, NOLA.com, The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate)

Like the state as a whole, the class of 2020 that recently graduated from high schools in the Baton Rouge region fared as badly on the ACT college placement exam as they have since the test became mandatory seven years ago.

The downward trend started in 2017, when state scores peaked, but was amplified this year by the coronavirus outbreak. Besides closing schools across the state, the pandemic prompted the cancelation of the March administration of the ACT, with limited retests in the summer, and forced a variety of prep courses online.

The result was many seniors didn’t get one last chance to take the big test and boost their scores.

“Typically, the more times you take it, the more you go up each time,” said Andrea O’Konski, chief of accountability, assessment and evaluation for the East Baton Rouge Parish school system.

“All that last bit of polish right before you take a test is lost,” said Craig Gehring, founder and chief executive officer of MasteryPrep, a Baton Rouge-based test prep company that works more than 1,000 schools across the country.

Louisiana’s composite score on the ACT in 2020 was 18.7, two-tenths of a point down from 2019, according to the latest report on ACT scores released last week.

The same trend is evident at the 50 public high schools in the capital region. About two-thirds declined compared to a year ago, while only a third improved.

The most improved was LSU Lab School in Baton Rouge with a score of 27, up 2.1 points. The school that declined the most was Maurepas School, which slipped 1.7 points to 20.4.

ACT scores range from 0 to a maximum of 36 points. The national average is 20.6, which is also two-tenths of a point down from the previous year.

The composite score combines results from four subject areas —math, English, reading, and science. Louisiana fell back this year in all four subjects.

Louisiana this year dropped almost a full point from its 2017 peak ACT composite score of 19.6. Similarly, four out of five Baton Rouge region schools have lost ground on the ACT during that three-year time span. Baker High in Baker took the biggest tumble, dropping 2.6 points to a composite score of 14.7.

And the class of 2021 may end up losing even more ground. The COVID disruption not only led to less test-taking for seniors, it will likely do the same for juniors. It was only on Oct. 6 that those juniors, who are now in their senior year, got to take the test they would have taken in March.

“The disruption is going to be more marked in the 2020-21 numbers,” Gehring said.

The lower scores for the class of 2020 suggest fewer of graduates are ready for college. Statewide, barely half, 52% of the class of 2020 earned an 18 on the ACT, which is the minimum bar for many colleges, and only 32% earned a 21, which is the state goal. In 2017, 63% of seniors earned an 18 and 38% earned a 21.

For the Baton Rouge area, that’s about 700 fewer young people possessing the minimum score that would give them a shot of getting into college.

Gehring expressed concern that Louisiana has lost some of the focus that helped it improve its ACT results from 2013 to 2017.

“There has definitely been a shift in what is expected of a graduate,” he said.


Email Charles Lussier at clussier@theadvocate.com and follow him on Twitter, @Charles_Lussier.