Seminole County’s Superintendent of Schools, Walt Griffin, has proposed that Florida test all of its high school students using a college entrance exam as the state’s standard measurement of high school achievement levels (as reported by Leslie Postal at School Zone here). Griffin suggested using the SAT, but 12 states already use the ACT in the way that the superintendent suggests – to test all high school students before they graduate.
In Florida, 81% of high school grads took the ACT in 2014, and Florida students’ average scores in that year are compared to results from other states at the ACT’s interactive “Average Scores by State” page. It doesn’t make sense to compare Florida’s average scores to those of, say, Massachusetts, where only 23% of high school grads take the ACT (the SAT still rules in Massachusetts). But comparing the average scores earned by the 81% of Florida high school grads who take the ACT to the averages from states where 100% of grads take the test seems fair. In fact, it is charitable to Florida – the 19% of high school grads who do not take the ACT are probably among the state’s weaker students.
The twelve states in which all high school grads take the ACT are Colorado, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, North Carolina, North Dakota, Tennessee, Utah and Wyoming.
Let’s take this comparison subject by subject.
Reading: Florida’s K-12 system focuses on reading (remember “Just Read, Florida”?) and the state’s 4th graders are famously outstanding in reading. On the ACT, Florida’s students averaged 20.7 (out of 36). Of the 12 states where 100% of students took the ACT, only five beat that average score (and Florida’s average score was better than seven of those states). So far, so good.
English: How are Florida’s writing skills? Well, not as good as reading skills, according to the ACT. Florida’s average score of 18.7 beats only one of the twelve states where all students take the test – and that’s North Carolina.
Math: In math, Florida’s average of 19.5 beats four of the twelve states in which all students take the test. Those states are Kentucky, Tennessee, Louisiana and Mississippi. Not so good.
Science: OK, you knew this wasn’t going to be good. And it’s not. Florida beats only two of the 100%-taking states, and they are Mississippi and North Carolina.
So here is a question for Walt Griffin: Does he think that Florida’s state-level education policy-makers would really go for his idea?