Scantron test
Susan Pendergrass

Missouri students have a college readiness problem. The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) reports that in 2017, just 42 percent of graduating high school seniors were college or career ready. (Try as I might, I can’t find any more recent data.)  But it gets worse. In 2019, just 25 percent of Missouri high school seniors met all four college readiness benchmarks on the ACT college entrance exam. And one-third of test takers met zero of the four.

Some would argue that ACT scores were negatively affected when the state paid everyone’s testing fee and nearly every high school senior took the exam. That appears to be true. The state starting picking up the tab in 2015, but just 77 percent of seniors took the test that year. In 2016, nearly every student took the exam and scores dropped. Only 22 percent of students met all college readiness benchmarks that year. In 2018, the state stopped paying for the exam and participation dropped off. This past school year participation was down to 82 percent and college readiness had improved by three percentage points.

What’s troubling is when you compare 2015 to 2019. Participation rates were about the same. But college readiness was five points higher (30 percent met all four benchmarks) in 2015. And the percentage of students who met none of the benchmarks was eight points lower. The excuse that non-college bound seniors were taking the test and lowering the scores falls apart.

Let’s be honest. The ACT bar is not that high. In English, meeting the college readiness benchmark means that a student has a 50 percent chance of getting a B and a 75 percent chance of getting a C in a typical college freshman English class. If Missouri high school graduates can’t hit that mark, then I would say we have a problem.


About the Author

Susan Pendergrass
Director of Research and Education Policy

Susan Pendergrass was Vice President of Research and Evaluation for the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools before joining the Show-Me Institute. Prior to coming to the National Alliance, Susan was a senior policy advisor at the U.S. Department of Education during the Bush administration and a senior research scientist at the National Center for Education Statistics during the Obama administration. She earned a Ph.D. in Public Policy from George Mason University.