Wisconsin Average ACT Score Falls, but Participation up by Half

Other numbers in the fresh data release: enrollment continues to fall, more students are taking AP exams

June 6, 2017

By Ola Lisowski
MacIver Institute Research Associate

[Madison, Wis…] More than 92 percent of 2016 Wisconsin high school graduates took the ACT exam, according to a new dataset released by the Department of Public Instruction (DPI). The average score among the graduating class of 2016 was 20.3 out of a possible 36 points.

That’s down from the class of 2015, which scored an average of 22.1. However, participation rates hovered below 64 percent that year. In 2016, nearly 20,000 more students took the exam compared to the year prior, nearly a 46 percent increase.

The new data also includes information on enrollment for the 2016-17 school year. New information on the 2015-16 school year includes ACT Aspire scores, attendance and dropout data, as well as AP exam scores. Graduation rates for the 2015-16 school year have not yet been released and are expected to be forthcoming within the next few weeks.

This was the second year that ACT Aspire scores have been reported. That exam, administered to high school freshmen and sophomores, tests college readiness before those students take the ACT exam for their college applications.

Proficiency rates stayed mostly steady on the ACT Aspire, dropping 0.4 percentage points for English but increasing 0.5 points in math over last year. When examining college readiness, 60.4 percent of 9th and 10th graders earned scores of “exceeding” or “ready” on English, while 38.9 percent of students tested achieved the same level in math.

Students in Milwaukee Public Schools had lower rates of college readiness on the ACT Aspire exam compared to students statewide. Just 10.2 percent of MPS students showed readiness in math, up slightly from 9.6 percent the year prior. Nearly one-third – 31.7 percent – of MPS students showed readiness in English.

MPS students also had higher rates of truancy and dropouts compared to the statewide averages. Across the state, the dropout rate was 1.5 percent in 2015-16. At MPS, that number was 7.2 percent. It also grew more steeply compared to the statewide rate. Statewide attendance and dropout rates have largely stayed steady over the past five years – in 2015-16, the statewide attendance rate was 94.9 percent. That’s the exact same number as four years prior, though it has wavered slightly in the years between.

One bright spot for MPS? A larger percentage of students who graduated in 2016 took the ACT – 95.3 percent in all. That’s 3.2 percentage points higher than the statewide average. MPS students clearly struggle more when it comes to proficiency, but any efforts to help ensure more students take the test are positive.

The average ACT composite score for MPS students was 16.1. Over in Madison, the average score was 21.4.

Total pupil enrollment fell slightly, from 867,137 students in the 2014-15 school year to 863,881, continuing a trend of slowly declining public school enrollment statewide.

Also, more students across the state took AP exams compared to the year prior, though the percent of students earning scores of three or higher fell. In the 2015-16 school year, 15.4 percent of students took an AP exam, compared to 14.4 percent in the year prior. Sixty-five percent of exam takers earned a three or higher, down from 66 percent in the previous year.

An AP score of three or more typically means the student will receive college credit for the exam. At UW System schools, that typically amounts to three credits, depending on the subject. An even higher score can earn students more credits.

At press time, a DPI spokesman had not returned a call seeking comment on the data release.