I felt like writing a response to the following Nebraska AP news release last week. Here's the news release:

Fewer than third of Nebraska juniors met ACT benchmarks

     LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - Newly released test scores indicate the majority of last year's Nebraska 11th-graders would struggle to get good grades their first year in college.
     The Omaha World-Herald reports that's based on ACT exam scores released Friday.
     The report says fewer than a third of the 22,300 students who took the exam during state testing in the spring met ACT benchmarks designed to predict success in typical college freshman math, science and English courses.
     The score release marks the first time state officials, parents and policymakers have a nationally recognized gauge of how well-prepared all Nebraska 11th-graders are for college success.
     Last year was the first that every high school junior in Nebraska public schools was required to take the ACT.

Without knowledge of the ACT test or benchmark scores, an initial reaction would be of disappointment. So, let me try to add some information for those less familiar.

First, the state chose to use the ACT as the official state test for all high school juniors instead of the previously used NeSA test.  The previous NeSA test was aligned to content standards for each subject. The ACT is a college-prep exam and not aligned to state standards. In other words, the test is of a much higher academic level and intended for college-bound students. Nebraska chose to move to the ACT in an effort to 'raise the bar' of expectations for student opportunities after high school.

There are benefits of using the ACT test for students, however, it probably is not appropriate for every student. For example, it has not been the intent of Chadron High School to send every student to a four-year institution after graduation. In fact, that would not correlate with the job market and would put many students at a disadvantage by creating student loan debt unnecessary for successful careers. Our goal is to provide opportunities for students to pursue a successful career after high school, many of which require specialized training of skills ...but not a four-year degree.

Here's a quick example of the national job market which is similar to statistics by the Nebraska Department of Labor. This graph shows only 33% of the job market requires a 4+ year degree. 

To recap, the ACT test is not aligned to standards intended to be mastered by every student. Please keep in mind, 'every' student means 'every' student, whether the student is diagnosed with learning disabilities or is learning English as a second or third language, every public school junior in Nebraska is now tested with the ACT exam.

Now, let's talk about ACT benchmark scores:

Again, Nebraska is trying to raise the bar even higher for public high schools in the state and has set ACT benchmark scores in each subject.  You might know that the ACT subject and composite scores are from 1-36 (the Writing exam is scored 2-12). Last year, Chadron High School had our first perfect score in many years (we don't have data indicating when it was done before). 

The national average composite score is 20.8,  the state average is 21.4 and CHS averages 22 all for graduates who have voluntarily paid to take the ACT ....but that isn't the average for when EVERY student takes the exam. Since 2017 was the first year for every junior to take the ACT, we can now report that the state ACT composite average for all juniors was 19.3 while CHS juniors averaged 20.9.

The benchmarks are set to indicate a high probability of success in core content courses at a four-year institution. 

ACT Benchmark scores by subject:
     ELA = 20+
     Math = 22+
     Science = 23+

In my opinion, it is amazing that a third of the state's 11th grade students have already scored at these ACT benchmarks with over a year of high school courses remaining. What's more remarkable are our results:
     32% of CHS juniors met all four subject benchmarks compared to the state’s 19%
49% of CHS juniors met 3 or 4 ACT subject benchmarks compared to the state’s 29%
more CHS results here

Obviously, given more than a year of high school courses remaining, we're confident that these students can increase subject and composite ACT scores if they volunteer to take the ACT again prior to graduation.

Not enough convincing?

According to the 2016 ACT publication 'The Condition of College and Career Readiness'

  • 2,090,342 of high school graduates or an estimated 64% of the graduating class, took the ACT. Notice 64% of graduates, not 100% as Nebraska now requires.
  • Only 26% met ACT College Readiness Benchmarks on all four subjects.

So, nearly a third of Nebraska's juniors already met ACT Benchmarks?      Good Job Nebraska!!!

Mr. Mack