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Test scores show 'aspiration gap' among WV students

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Test scores show 'aspiration gap' among WV students
By BISHOP NASH, Herald Dispatch

CHARLESTON - Data released regarding the ACT college readiness assessment has revealed what state Superintendent of Schools Steve Paine called an "aspiration gap" among West Virginia students.

According to the West Virginia Department of Education, nearly 70 percent of high school graduates are taking the college entrance exam, which is higher than the national average. And 95 percent of the students who take the ACT say they planned to further their education beyond high school.

But a look at West Virginia students who took the ACT in 2016 showed that only about two-thirds of them actually enrolled in post-secondary education, a proportion far smaller than 95 percent.

"We want to close that aspirational gap," Paine said in a news release. "We want each and every student who desires to continue his or her education after high school to have the opportunities to do so.

"This will take a coordinated effort among the West Virginia Department of Education, state legislators and institutions of higher learning statewide, but it is a cause that deserves our attention."

West Virginia's rate of student participation in the ACT remains 10 points above the 60 percent national average of high school graduates who have taken the ACT. The percentage of West Virginia students taking the test has grown 5 percent since 2013.

But their performance on the test may be a factor in why many do not enroll in post-secondary education. Scores posted by Mountain State students have decreased across all four test portions: English, reading, math and science. As a result, West Virginia's average composite score fell from 20.7 in 2016 to 20.4 in 2017. The national average composite score in 2017 was 21.

Lower ACT scores come despite West Virginia's rising state test scores in math and science during the 2016-17 school year. Those who took the ACT in West Virginia did, however, score above the national average in English and at the national average in reading, according to the state Department of Education.

"Our summative assessment results show positive gains for our students, but the ACT results highlight areas where more work is needed," Paine said. "I am thrilled to see the increased desire of our students to take a college entrance exam. Now we need to make sure we are preparing our students to perform at their best."

With math and science proficiency scores on the rise, 59 percent of West Virginia high school graduates have expressed interested in a STEM career field, according to the ACT Condition of College and Career Readiness Report. The "aspiration gap," however, was again evident, as only 11 percent of West Virginia's ACT test participants met the ACT STEM College Readiness Benchmark in 2017.

"Our students show a desire to go into STEM-related fields, which is why the West Virginia Department of Education is ramping up STEM offerings statewide," said Lou Maynus, assistant superintendent for the Division of Teaching and Learning, in a release. "We know that these skills are desired by current employers and will fuel the jobs of the future, and we think it is wonderful that our students have a passion for these subjects. It is our duty to ensure that they receive the best education possible to support that passion."

The ACT is used to assess potential college success and is the main college entrance exam in 25 states including West Virginia, though ACT testing is not mandatory for graduation in the Mountain State. ACT testing is mandatory to different degrees in 16 states, including Kentucky.

***BREAKOUT***
Percentage of 2017 high school graduates who take the ACT:
Nationwide: 60 percent
West Virginia: 69 percent
Kentucky: 100 percent
Ohio: 75 percent
Average ACT composite score:
Nationwide: 21
West Virginia: 20.4
Kentucky: 20
Ohio: 22