Opinions differ on student test performance

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

A recent announcement from the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education put Missouri students in the middle of those taking the ACT college admissions test, but that might not have been a fair assessment.

The information released by DESE correctly stated Missouri's average composite score stayed at 21.6 for the eighth consecutive year, coming in just above the national average of 21.1. Looking solely at those numbers, Missouri ranked 26th nationally, up from 27th last year.

The Missouri Association of School Administrators responded to this with a release of their own, noting that Missouri students actually placed fourth in the country when compared to other states that test at least 75 percent of their students.

"We feel that it is important to set the record straight," said Robert Kurtz, executive director of the Missouri Association of School Administrators. "Missouri public schools are doing a fantastic job of educating our students and they should be congratulated for this achievement."

Ed Colby, a representative of ACT Inc, said part of the confusion in how students compare is the result of disparities in the number of students who take the test.

"The varying percentages of students who take the ACT in each state make direct comparisons difficult," he said. "You should probably compare Missouri's results only to states which have a similar percentage of students tested, and even then the comparison should be view with caution."

Colby said the only way to truly compare state performance is when 100 percent of students are tested.

"Otherwise, the scores are representative only of college bound (or college-hopeful) students who elected to take the ACT," he said.

Currently only nine states give the ACT test to all of their students. In 2012, Missouri was among 17 states that gave the test to at least 75 percent of their students. It was in this group that Missouri placed fourth in composite scores, ranking second in the English portion, third in the reading section and fourth in both the math and science portions of the test.

"Missouri taxpayers should be pleased with these results. Missouri educators have been working diligently over the last decade to improve curriculums, raise stands and improve teaching techniques," Kurtz said. "Their hard work and dedication is evident in these test results. The fact that Missouri high schools are doing so well on these national tests should be noted by businesses that are considering locating in Missouri."

Locally, students taking the ACT were a bit behind the state and national averages. Superintendent Mary Beth Scherer said 26 seniors, representing 62 percent of their class, took the test. Their average composite score was 19.9 with the lowest area of performance being math (18.3 average) and the highest being reading (21.4 average).

"To address our lowest area of math we added an ACT math class this year to help the students review and be ready for the ACT test," Scherer said.

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