Black and Hispanic Students Make ACT Gains in Many SREB States

Blog post Jeff Gagne, Director of Policy Analysis, SREB

Black and Hispanic students in many SREB states made gains in ACT scores in the 2017 results.  And test-taking rates continued to grow in several states. 

Here at SREB, we anticipate the release of ACT scores each fall as an indicator of the progress states are making in student achievement and college readiness.  This year, we see achievement gaps shrinking for black and Hispanic students — plus continued growth in test-taking in several states.

Black and Hispanic students in many SREB states made gains in ACT scores in the 2017 results released today. ACT results provide students and states with a measure of student achievement and college-readiness.

Nationally, the average ACT composite score for the class of 2017 was 21.0, up from 20.8 in 2016. Average composite scores for the SREB region remained flat at 20.0 from 2016 to 2017.

On closer examination of ACT state-level data, we see that average composite scores improved for black, Hispanic and white students in many SREB states from 2016 to 2017. Scores for black students improved in 10 SREB states, and gaps between black and white students narrowed in seven of the 10. Hispanic students made gains in seven SREB states, and narrowed the gap with white students in four of the seven. White students also made gains in seven SREB states. 

Three SREB states — Georgia, Maryland and Mississippi — saw gains for all three student groups. Gaps between black and white students narrowed in Maryland and Mississippi.

ACT Gains for All Student Groups, 2017

State Black Hispanic White
Georgia +0.1 +0.3 +0.2
Maryland +0.6 +0.2 +0.3
Mississippi +0.3 +0.1 +0.2

Italics denotes student groups in these states that also narrowed performance gaps with white students from 2016 to 2017.

Gains for
Black Students
  Gains for
Hispanic Students
  Gains for
White Students
Alabama +0.2   Georgia +0.3   Alabama +0.2
Georgia +0.1   Kentucky +0.3   Delaware +0.3
Kentucky +0.1   Maryland +0.2   Georgia +0.2
Maryland +0.6   Mississippi +0.1   Maryland +0.3
Mississippi +0.3   North Carolina +0.2   Mississippi +0.2
North Carolina +0.2   Tennessee +0.2   South Carolina +0.2
South Carolina +0.2   Texas +0.2   Virginia +0.5
Tennessee +0.2​            
Texas +0.2            
Virginia +0.6            

One-tenth of one point is statistically significant for average composite ACT scores, so these increases reflect real improvement. But that means each SREB state needs to stay focused on ensuring that high school students from every student group graduate prepared to succeed after high school.

These ACT results can help states identify which of its graduates are considered college-ready. The job market will require these graduates to move on to postsecondary education and earn a credential.

The percentage of students who met all four of ACT’s college-readiness benchmarks — English, reading, math and science — rose in six SREB states: Delaware, Georgia, Maryland, Mississippi, South Carolina and Virginia. The ACT college-readiness benchmarks project whether a high school graduate has a high probability of success in credit-bearing college courses. They are empirically derived scores that indicate whether students have approximately a 50 percent chance of earning a B or better and approximately a 75 percent chance of earning a C or better in the corresponding college course or courses.

One story I’d like to call attention to: For the second year in a row. Georgia was the only SREB state with a majority of its Class of 2017 taking the test while in high school to outperform the nation on ACT college-readiness benchmarks in English, reading, math and science. Georgia also matched the nation on the ACT STEM benchmark — an indicator of readiness for student success in postsecondary science, technology, engineering and math.

Four SREB states — Arkansas, Maryland, Oklahoma and West Virginia — saw ACT participation rates increase, while participation across the nation shrank 4 percentage points from 2016 to 2017. Oklahoma joined the seven other SREB states that require all of their students to take the ACT before graduating high school.