Four straight years of increases in college entrance test scores for Louisiana’s high school graduates indicate that education reform efforts are paying off, but the state’s Commissioner of Higher Education isn’t impressed.
“It’s nice it’s going up,” Joseph C. Rallo said about increases on the college readiness ACT exam. “But 53 percent of high school graduates still need remediation.”
Rallo, who heads the Board of Regents, the state’s coordinating board for higher education, also points out that a majority of the state’s graduates are unprepared to compete for jobs in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
“Over 50 percent will require some education in STEM fields,” Rallo said, “and only 10 percent (of students) are STEM ready.”
The U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Statistics Administration says that between 2000 and 2010, “growth in STEM jobs was three times as fast as growth in their non-STEM counterparts.” The report also says that STEM workers earn 26 percent more income.
“We have to measure against the competition,” Rallo said. “Other people will come in and take the jobs, or industries will not come here.”
"Over 50 percent will require some education in STEM fields and only 10 percent (of students) are STEM ready.”
Louisiana’s economy has long been stymied by an undereducated work force. Efforts to improve the state’s public schools for nearly two decades have resulted in higher test scores and graduation rates, but as other states also step up academic expectations, matching their performance remains a challenge.
According to the state Department of Education, the 2016-2017 composite score for public school test takers climbed to 19.6 from last year’s 19.5. In 2012-2013, the score was 19.1, department’s figures show. A perfect score is 36.
The DOE’s figures do not include private school test takers and they reflect students’ best scores. The ACT organization’s statistics differ slightly because it lumps together private and public students’ scores and uses the scores from students’ most recent attempts, according to state officials. Students often take the ACT more than once.
Louisiana began requiring all public high school students to take the ACT in the 2012-2013 school year. That requirement means that thousands of students who have no interest in college and who don’t take college preparatory courses are reflected in the state’s composite score. Louisiana is one of 17 states that require all public students to take the ACT.
When the DOE released the state’s composite ACT score in August, it said a “record” 25,704 students scored 18 and above. In general, a score of 18 indicates a student has the minimum skills needed to take college-level courses. A composite score, however, doesn’t necessarily indicate college readiness for every subject.Individual scores can reflect weaknesses that must be corrected before a student can take a specific college credit course.
Individual student scores are often out-of-balance. A student may score well in English, for example, and score low in math, hence the need to take a remedial course before taking the college credit course. The fact that more than half of Louisiana’s college-going graduates need some remediation indicates that many of them will struggle in college.
Students also are not graduating from college on time, according to Rallo. Board of Regents statistics show that 31 percent of students attending college via Louisiana’s merit-based TOPs scholarship graduate in the usual four years. The report also shows that only 15 percent of non-TOPS students graduate on-time.