A Major Crisis in College Readiness for Black Students

act-thumbAccording to a new report, the American College Testing Program’s ACT college admissions test was taken by 2,090,342 students in the high school graduating class of 2016. This is a 25 percent increase since 2012.

In 2016, 272,363 Black students who were in the high school graduating class took the ACT test. This is up from 222,237 Black student test takers in 2012.

For the 2016 high school graduating class, the average composite score for Black test takers on the ACT was 17.0. (The ACT is graded on a scale of 1 to 36.) The average score for Blacks was lower than for any other racial or ethnic group including American Indians, Hispanics, and Pacific Islanders. The average composite score for Whites in 2016 was 22.2. The average score for both Blacks and Whites dropped slightly in 2016. The racial gap in ACT test scores has remained relatively stable for decades.

Some 73 percent of all White ACT test takers were rated as achieving a benchmark score which demonstrated that they were ready for college-level English classes. Only 33 percent of Black students reached the college-readiness benchmark in English. In mathematics, 50 percent of Whites were deemed ready for college-level mathematics, compared to just 13 percent of Blacks who took the ACT. In sciences, 46 percent of White ACT test takers were deemed ready for college-level coursework compared to 11 percent of Blacks.

Some 34 percent of Whites who took the ACT test were deemed college ready in all four areas of English, mathematics, reading, and science. For Blacks, only 6 percent of all test takers were deemed college ready in all four areas.

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  1. This article gives reasons why so many of our Black students cannot pass the Praxis I exam to become teachers, because they had trouble with the ACT in high school.

    Graham P. Matthews, Ph.D.
    Associate Professor of Early Childhood Education
    Tennessee State University
    Nashville, TN 37209

    • Is there data available regarding the percentages of Black students who engage in test prep, who appreciate the need and/or purpose if testing or who care about the process whatsoever?

        • Ed,

          Your comments are really insulting and ignorant at best. Instead of pointing to other barriers as to why blacks perform lower on standardized exams, such as poor neighborhood schools and inexperience, white middle-class female teachers, who are often indifferent towards these students, you say that there is an IQ gap. I would not be surprise if you support the eugenics theory. Let’s say that you are relevant on your IQ theory, you can’t eliminate the fact that black children are more susceptible to lead exposure during their developmental years. It is true that lead exposure affects IQ. So, if there is an IQ difference it comes from the environments that most of these children are being reared in, which can stem from housing discriminations in the past.

          I also believe it takes more than a test prep for students to score well. What about academic enrichments outside of school? Studies show that the home is a much stronger reinforcement of learning than school and summer reading give students a huge advantage for the incoming school year. But if the home is stressful, and there is a lack of resources, then maybe that is one of the factors playing into the poor test scores for black students.

          So, please stop with the race superiority/inferiority; it demonstrates your low self-esteem by putting down another group.

          • “… there is no firm reason to anticipate that the intellectual capacities of peoples geographically separated in their evolution should prove to have evolved identically. Our wanting to reserve equal powers of reason as some universal heritage of humanity will not be enough to make it so.” -Jim Watson


            And of course all the testing says “not really” to the claim that there are no racial differences in reasoning ability.

            That’s just reality, Giles, and you can’t make it go away by living in a fantasy world.

          • Calvin Hobbes,

            And this all comes from a Western Europeanized sense, because white is right and is the norm and anything-else is wrong, right? When comparing blacks to other racial groups the U.S., it’s clear that blacks are the ones who suffered the most. As the frontliners of the Civil Rights movement, it clearly gave other groups an advantage to establish themselves, while blacks were digging themselves out from the aftermath, once the Civil Rights Act was passed. So, to say that it is an intellectual incompacity as the reason for why standardized scores are stagnant, eclipses any social injustice, enslavement, and inequality, trickling down intergerationaly since before this nation’s independence as to why we still have these stubborn problems. And I won’t tolerate that.

          • Giles,

            Why so sensitive? Ed simply cited a study that concluded that Blacks use test prep services at higher rates than other groups. And said test prep services improved SAT scores 20 to 40 points.

            Secondly, Ed never said there was an IQ gap. You inferred that from his two sentence comment about test prep use by Blacks.

            Let’s cut to the chase here. Blacks have not always been last in educational achievement. To cite one example, students at all-Black Paul Laurence Dunbar HS (Washington DC) in 1899 saw scores higher on city wide tests than all of the city’s white schools. From 1870 to 1955 most of its graduates went off to college. It’s alumni include US Senator Ed Brooke, physician Charles Drew, and almost 20 majors, nine colonels and lieutenant colonels, and a brigadier general during WWII.

            Dunbar HS is not an anomaly. Other examples of high Black academic achievement exist dating back as many as one hundred years ago.

            When are we (and, yes, I’m Black) going to get real about confronting our problems? What problems? Problems that act as a barrier to the educational achievement levels we used to attain when we were much worse off.

          • Giles,

            Your comments about Ed’s comments about IQ levels are justified. However, the rest of my previous comment stands. Amongst Black students there is a gap in proficiency (i.e. Math, English, etc.), standardized test scores, etc. when compared to other groups. However, it has not always been so.

          • Derrick,

            Then what helped blacks achieved in the past (1870-1955) despite The conditions then was segregation, a strong community, and, most importantly, a two parent family structure. Segregation forced us to come together to help and achieve together. I believe that is what helped pulled us through.

            Now, in the 21st century, the black family has dwindled. There isn’t a strong family unit, the black family has now become matriarchal, and fathers are no longer in the home. We allowed the momentum gained from the past to die and this generation is suffering from the consequences. Now, I’m not touting for re-segregation, but I think there is a strong need for a return to building stronger communities and an even stronger family structure.

            Blackness is strong, resilient, and resistant, so I refuse to let someone like Ed come on this website and come up with other theories (IQ gap) to explain our plight.

            That’s all, brother.

  2. This article, in my opiniion, helps to us to see more clearly the challenge before us to curb the perpetuation of Blacks not being as successful as their white counterparts when it comes to these kinds of assessments. It does not even attempt to explain what factors may be hindering their success and ability to perform better on such test. From ACT to SAT to MCAT to LSAT… and the list goes on.

    • Obviously there is an IQ gap. Now one can argue or debate why there is an IQ gap but that’s the driver of why blacks perform poorly on standardized tests across the board.

      • Why would you cite a disgraced academic racist whose own theory on race and IQ has no grounding in his field of study and is rejected by the scientific community?

        Perhaps you share Watson’s racism, but lack his sexism.

      • I remember a writer sying truth’s destiny is to be a female dog amidst pigs.

        It’s the only thing that can never be said, Ed, as it discords with human nature.

  3. a couple of points need to be made:

    1. many high schools are requiring all seniors to take the ACT these days (which would include students who are deeply disengaged/not college-bound, and this would impact the scores overall regardless of race).

    2. TEST PREPARATION COSTS MONEY. the average prep course costs somewhere around $900.00. this cost is prohibitive to MANY black families. as a collective, we are poor (low-income). we need to stop being in denial about this, and deal with it head-on. people who are strapped for cash cannot pay for a college test prep class.

    • Test prep doesn’t take a student that scores 15 on the ACT to 25. That’s not how it works.

      You are right many more states are requiring all students to take ACT or SAT. Still these gaps have always been there.

  4. Why is it that we only talk about the victims of standardized tests? We continue to look for excuses for why we don’t do as well on tests. All standardized tests measure income, then color. Get rid of the test, not the victims.

  5. Ed,
    I recommend you read the “Unequal Childhoods” by Annette lareau. It will enlighten you a bit. Middle class children struggle as well regardless of race, but through their parents intervention and guildance, they succeed. In addition,what type of higher income blacks are we talking about here? There are those who come from new money vs old money. Does the child come from a respectable pedigree of educated familial history. Plus, studies have shown that middle black students don’t try as hard because they don’t want to be perceived as acting “white” by their peers. There are alot of variables that goes into play here.

  6. My guess the “The Widening Racial Scoring Gap on the SAT College Admissions Test” was posted in 2005. If different please let me know.

    Do not know who ED is but thanks for the link. Followed a series of links to this page while doing some critical reading of an article written by Walter E. Williams “Cruelty to Black Students”. He does not appear to understand the significance of SAT scales scores any better than the information posted here. Before anyone gets frustrated with what I wrote, the situation is worse than what is posted here. To understand that, you have to convert the scaled scores to a scale that we are familiar with. Shocked me when I was able to look at the data with a different point of view. To steal a movie quote and adapt it to academic shortfalls, “America, we have a much larger problem than the scaled scores you don’t understand tell you.”

  7. All are worthwhile and should have opportunity in front of them… However, admitting students who do not meet the basic criterion is a travesty for all… even the ‘low bar’ set for whites… I scored 22 in ’67!!!

    Many good people will succeed if there is no stigma placed on trade schools and basic/advanced supporting skills!!!

    • Paladin,
      There should be no stigma. The trade industry still have great careers and much of them are unionized, stable, and middle-class. Though manufacturing jobs are nearly gone, people forget that careers in trade still provide a comfortable and decent incomes with good benefits.
      There should not be only one path to prosperity and success.

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