Trending Upward: Students of Color, “College-Readiness,” and the ACT

Kaleem Caire and the Urban League consistently highlight the performance of Madison African-American and Latino students on the ACT as evidence of what they see as the shortcomings of the education that the Madison school district provides to its students of color. 

This excerpt from the Madison Prep website is typical: 

All high school seniors in Wisconsin are required to complete the ACT college entrance exam if they want to attend any of the University of Wisconsin System’s 26 public colleges and universities immediately after graduation.  There were 378 African American and 191 Latino seniors attending MMSD high schools in 2010; just 76 African American and 71 Latino seniors completed the exam. Just 7% of African American and 18% of Latino seniors completing the ACT college entrance exam were deemed “college-ready” by the test-maker. This means only 5 African American and 13 Latino students in MMSD were academically ready for college.

 We recently received information on the graduating class of 2011’s performance on the ACT.  Here’s a slew of numbers and percentages from the reports: 

113 African-American MMSD students took the ACT, about a 50% increase over the previous year.  The average composite ACT score for these students was 18.3, compared to a 17.3 average for MMSD African-American students last year, a 16.2 average for African-American students in Wisconsin, and a 17.0 average for African-American students nationwide.  (By the way, the average composite ACT score for students at Urban Prep in Chicago– occasionally held up as a model for Madison Prep – was 16 last year.) 

87 Latino MMSD students took the ACT, about a 22% increase over the previous year.  The average composite ACT score for these students was 21.0, compared to a 20.1 average for MMSD Latino students last year, a 19.2 average for Latino students in Wisconsin and an 18.7 average for Latino students nationwide.   

ACT deems a student “college-ready” if he or she scores at least 18 in English, 22 in Math, 21 in Reading, and 24 in Science on the subparts of the ACT.  Overall, 47% of MMSD students met all four benchmarks.  The comparable percentages for ACT-tested 2011 graduates in Wisconsin and the United States were 32% and 25%.

The percentages of our African-American students who met the “college ready” benchmark in the various subparts were as follows: 44% in English, 24% in Math, 33% in Reading, and 15% in Science.  The percentage of African-American students who met the “college ready” benchmark in all four subjects was 14%.   This compares with 4% of ACT-tested African-American students both statewide and nationwide who met the benchmark in all four subjects. 

The percentages of our Latino students who met the “college ready” benchmark were: 64% in English, 43% in Math, 54% in Reading, and 25% in Science.  The percentage of Latino students who met the “college ready” benchmark in all four subjects was 22%.  The percentage for Latino students statewide was 13% and the percentage nationwide was 11%

So, our numbers are still nothing to brag about, but they show considerable improvement this year over last year and consistently exceed state and national averages in the areas that the Urban League highlights.

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5 Responses to Trending Upward: Students of Color, “College-Readiness,” and the ACT

  1. Jill says:

    Thanks for the good information Ed. The comparisons to state and national scores really help put things in context. As you indicated, MMSD still has a long way to go, but it’s good to know we’re somewhat ahead of the curve compared to most other places. Regardless of what happens with Madison Prep, the district needs to continue to work on the best ways to improve achievement for all students. Looks like maybe AVID and some of the other new strategies in place are starting to pay off.

  2. Mary Worth says:

    One of the problems is that teachers (and those who establish curricula) think that the way to reach minority kids is to dummy everything down, and this is pervasive in MMSD. This will not allow bright kids to reach there potential. Another problem is the idea of the heterogeneous classroom meeting all kids’ needs. Flexible skill grouping would work better to provide remedial skills and then let kids move up to their next level of challenge. It is too difficult to do this in a standard heterogeneous classroom that has kids of all different level of skills.

    • Eric says:

      For what it’s worth, I’ve been continually impressed at my children’s teachers to do just what you’re suggesting. Watching my son’s kindergarten teacher 4 years ago, I distinctly remember thinking that she had all the kids in one room, but she was teaching 4 different classes, based on each child’s needs and abilities. I’ve seen this same thing in many other MMSD classrooms.

  3. Mad4Madison says:

    Ed –

    Thanks for the sharing your facts.

  4. Torrey says:

    Thanks for sharing this information Ed. One of the problems – or rather limitations – I see with looking at ACT scores is that it only gives you information regarding those who actually CHOSE to take the ACT. It tells us nothing about those who did not take it.

    It seems logical to argue that those who are likely to take the ACT are students who are likely to, or at least have a decent chance to go to college – in other words, the more educated students. ACT is therefore a biased sample, not a random sample of students.

    In addition the participation rates of the various states vary greatly. I believe ACT is more of a Midwestern thing while SAT is more popular on the coasts. For example, in 2009 67% of Wisconsin students took the ACT while only 4% took the SAT. Another state might have those percentages reversed. Therefore even when making national comparisons you are getting a biased sample with some states over-represented and others under-represented (and of course the students who did not take it not represented at all).

    That’s not to say it is not still interesting to look at the numbers and make comparisons. But I find ACT’s usefulness as a measure of the quality of the education being provided by a system to be rather limited, and also of no use at all in making national comparisons of the quality of education in one state to another (or all other states combined).

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