Helios uses the ACT exam to find out
A study from the Helios Foundation recently reported that “36 percent of working-age adults in Arizona have an associate’s degree or higher. However, by 2020, more than 65 percent of jobs will require some form of postsecondary education.”
That statistic should motivate Arizona’s job-creators to get serious about improving the college and career-readiness of our high school students. One initiative, which seeks to do just that, is Helios’ Arizona ACT District Choice State Testing (ACT DCST) Program. The program is part of the Foundation’s effort to ensure high school graduates are prepared to enter college, and ultimately, the workforce.
Under the ACT DCST Program, and since 2009, Helios has helped 14 Arizona school districts underwrite the cost of administering the ACT college examination for high school juniors. More than 81,000 students have taken the exam as part of this initiative through 2014. The reason for the investment in the ACT is that its results provide useful insight into the college readiness of Arizona students. By analyzing student performance on the exam, schools, districts, and the state can identify ways to modify class instruction, curriculum, or education policy with the goal to improve student achievement. Nationally, 13 states in 2014 paid for students to take the ACT, with more on the way.
Right from the start, the Arizona ACT DCST Program dramatically increased access to and participation in the exam, especially for minority, male and/or low-income students. The value of increasing the population of test takers is that it gives a more accurate picture of the college readiness of all students, not just the limited population of students who opt to take the test and already self identify as college bound.
Just recently, Helios partnered with a national research firm, NORC at the University of Chicago, to examine the ACT data collected since 2009 and to provide statewide estimates of ACT achievement and college readiness. Here is a sampling of what the analysis revealed:
- Nationally, only 26 percent of ACT test takers are ready for college.
- In Arizona, only 10 percent of high school juniors would have met the thresholds associated with college and career readiness in all four core subjects of English, Reading, Math, and Science. 59 percent would have met no benchmarks.
- The average national ACT score for each subject for 2013 was 21 (scored on a zero to 36 scale).
- NORC estimated a composite ACT score of 17 for Arizona juniors.
- By subject, NORC predicted scores of 16 for English, 18 for Reading and Math, and 17 for Science.
As for college readiness, NORC estimated:
- 36 percent of Arizona students were ready for college English courses.
- 22 percent were ready overall in Mathematics.
- Science readiness was lowest, with only 15 percent of Arizona students ready for science-related college courses.
To be clear, Arizona has pockets of excellence all over the state. Schools from the Phoenix suburbs to the small border towns of Santa Cruz County are achieving incredible results. Our A for Arizona project focuses exclusively on expanding access to these high-achieving schools serving low-income students. That said, knowledge is power; by administering the ACT exam to all students, and assessing their results, more schools can be empowered to tackle the areas that need the greatest improvement. Taking steps to increase our awareness of students’ performance will move our state toward increasing college preparedness and postsecondary graduation rates for all Arizona students.
To learn more about the ACT DCST Program, check out the following links: