#53 ACT Data & the Story It Tells for Your Student Transcript



Rose Babbington  0:00  

The first thing that students want to know is what’s my score? How close is it to that 36. But what we hope students are doing as they’re looking at their score reports and talking through them with their families are saying, Where are my scores, my English math, reading and science scores relative to the college readiness benchmarks. And that again goes back to the benchmarks, reflecting what students need to know to have the best chance of at least a C in their first year college courses.


Lisa Marker Robbins  0:32  

You may have heard of in the news that AC T scores for the class of 2020 to reach a 30 year low. To understand why this is and what it means for your teen. I invited rose Babbington from AC T to explain the AC T data and related to what it means for your teens college entrance, and more importantly, their success once they arrive on campus. You will leave this episode invigorated to support your team and making sure they are college ready. I’m Lisa marker Robbins and I want to welcome you to College and Career Clarity, a flourish coaching production. Let’s dive right in to a great conversation is my pleasure to welcome rose Babbington to the podcast I’ve actually known rose well over a decade at this point, I think from her early days at Ohio State University working in admissions. And what I love about her expertise that she’s bringing to the podcast today is not only does she have that lens through the admissions piece, but now she’s working as a senior director for AC T state partnerships with AC T. She runs a whole gamut on things that are very important to my listeners. And a recent headline in the news had me reaching out to have her on the podcast, you guys may have seen it that the average AC t score dropped for the first time in more than 30 years. It’s now a 19.8 out of the perfect 36. And rose, I know the test hasn’t changed. So we have got to talk about what is going on and what advice we have for families who are trying to navigate this. Welcome to the podcast.


Rose Babbington  2:22  

Thanks for having me, Lisa, it’s great to see you again. And you’re absolutely right. This is what we’re talking about today is really at the sweet spot of what I’m most passionate about working with students and families to make sure that every student has the best options available to them after high school, combined with using data and insights to really help tell the story of what’s important to a student and their family, as well as what’s important to a school and a district and even up to a state. So I’m thrilled to dive into the data and I think tried to make some sense of what the numbers and scores really translate to


Lisa Marker Robbins  2:59  

perfect. And I think that data driven approach is so important when we’re creating strategies. I often say to my listeners, and those that my college major and career coaching course, that you know, you can have all these goals that you want. But they’re only a wish, unless you’ve got the strategy and the data to to really support that strategy. And you’re setting aside the time to be intentional. So we’ve got a lot of overlap and how we look at this. Yeah, and


Rose Babbington  3:29  

it’s so well put, I think that when we talk about AC T scores, they’re obviously such a stressor for students and families. And when we look at them from the AC T perspective, we hope that one students can tackle that stress, take the test, it really gives them some insight into where they stand into where their strengths are into the areas where they can improve and advocate for themselves. I couldn’t agree with you more that having this data, even when the data isn’t good news necessarily. It’s important for us to look at because it’s one of the only ways we can really have some meat to make changes and talk about big picture restructuring and changes overall. So the bad


Lisa Marker Robbins  4:11  

news was, after three decades, the average so looking at this, the US national average, right? dropped from so perfect scores at 36. People always are saying what’s a good score? I’m like, Well, I mean, it’s relative to your student, your goals, a lot of different things. But typically, I’d always quoted that, oh, a 28 is going to put you at about the top 10 person if you’re at a 28 out of the 36 on that scaled score of 36. And I would say a 21 is going to put you right around the 50th percentile. So that’s what I have quoted for my entire 24 year career in this industry. So what happened what did we find from the data?


Rose Babbington  4:56  

This year? The 2022 grad class the two big takeaways to pare it down to sort of two simple pieces. The first is that the score dropped a half a point, the average national composite score dropped half a point to 19.8. It was 20.3 for the year before the graduating class of 2021. And while half a point might not seem like a lot to an individual student who’s talking about, you know, a 21, or 22, when we’re talking about over a million students who are taking the AC t over their high school career, a half a point change, and the average is significant. And that’s to us is certainly indicative of, you know, the stories we’re hearing all across the board of the challenges and the impact of the pandemic. This year’s graduates, the 2022 class had over half of their high school career overshadowed by the pandemic. And seeing this significant drop from the year before certainly paints that picture of the learning loss pieces that occurred for these students, and probably points to more to come in the future. The second half. The second point is that over this 30 year period, we’ve seen decreases and declines in the average AC t score over time. So while this particular drop was significant, and while we can trace that back to the pandemic, looking over 30 years, I think that the declines that we’ve seen in the average score, point to a lot of long term inequities in education, and a lot of challenges that students are facing in schools across the country. Outside of the pandemic effects.


Lisa Marker Robbins  6:35  

What you’re saying is, yes, it has come down at times, but we’re at a 30 year low. Is that the right way to put it?


Rose Babbington  6:42  

Yes, yep, that’s perfectly put. It’s been trending down. You know, we’ve had little peaks here in there. But certainly this trend down, we feel comfortable attributing to the challenges of the pandemic,


Lisa Marker Robbins  6:55  

the test didn’t change, right? Is that I mean, am I saying the right things? So when we think about the test, what are students being asked to do? On the Test? Like, what is it measuring?


Rose Babbington  7:08  

This is the perfect question, because the test itself is measuring what students learned in high school, it’s what the AC T has always measured. So when we’re talking about a score decline when we’re talking about half a point, or even 1/10 of a point, what that translates to our standards and skills. And it’s the standards and skills that students are learning in their high school classrooms. And it’s the standards that colleges and universities expect students to know, to be successful in their first year classes. Everything on the AC T comes from research that is driven by colleges and universities. So when we’re looking at students scores and looking for students to meet AC T benchmarks, what we’re really saying outside of the numbers are, what are those really important listening and reading and writing and math and science skills that students need to be able to demonstrate, to get at least a C in their first year college courses to pass out of their first year to stay in college and eventually get that degree?


Lisa Marker Robbins  8:10  

I want to slow down for a second for our listeners. So I when I sleep and drink all this stuff, when you just said the chance of getting a C or better. So you all you’re referencing the college readiness benchmarks that the AC T has established with their tests, is that correct?


Rose Babbington  8:30  

That’s absolutely correct. And that’s a big part of how we measure the scores on the AC T. Obviously, I think the first thing that students want to know is what’s my score? How close is it to that 36. But what we hope students are doing as they’re looking at their score reports and talking through them with their families are saying where are my scores, my English math, reading and science scores relative to the college readiness benchmarks. And that again, goes back to the benchmarks, reflecting what students need to know to have the best chance of at least to see in their first year college courses.


Lisa Marker Robbins  9:07  

Very good and do you off the top of your head know those benchmarks I put off the top


Rose Babbington  9:13  

of my head 18 is English benchmark 22 for math 22 for reading and 23 for science,


Lisa Marker Robbins  9:22  

okay? So if you hit that score or above, then you have a you say 70 or 80% chance of


Rose Babbington  9:31  

you’d have a 70% chance of getting a C or better a 50% chance of getting a B or better in those entry level first year college courses. And we’ve done Gosh, our research folks at ACC do this year in and year out tracking those specific courses at a college or university colleges here in Ohio colleges all across the country, asking colleges and universities to share data that says where are your students how many of your students are getting see A’s and B’s and A’s in their key college courses or English one oh ones, they’re college algebras, some of the most important social science courses, college biology, chemistry, and then track we track that data to say, what does that mean in terms of students a CT scores. So there’s a lot of research that goes into those benchmarks, that gives us a lot of confidence to say, these are the targets that we want students to aim for.


Lisa Marker Robbins  10:28  

I love this, because you’re so right, families go, Oh, what did my kid get like, that’s they’re just they are folks. So focus on that composite number, which is an average of those other four numbers. And they just get so centered on that, that they forget, like, there is data here to help guide you. So first of all families go in when you’ve got the official AC t score report, get in there and look at how your students doing as it relates to this college readiness benchmarks. Okay, so the overall average drop lowest point in 30 years, which is really truly for you and me heartbreaking as educators to see and you’re the mom of a young one, you know, I’m finishing up the college years with my kids, we got to fix this. Do you have data as it relates to the college readiness benchmarks like what percentage of students are hitting or exceeding these college readiness benchmarks?


Rose Babbington  11:27  

That’s the least I think that’s where the story gets even harder to talk about sometimes, because when we start looking at the college readiness benchmarks, nationally, we’re seeing a very high number of students who are not meeting any benchmarks. And a heartbreaking thing there is, again, for students who are looking to go whether it’s two or four year college, whether it’s career, we want every student to be able to leave high school, and have those key pieces ready to go into a job interview to go into their English class. And if a student doesn’t have those, then we know that there’s a gap. And we know that there’s room for improvement that either the college needs to provide a job I need to provide or a student needs to find for themselves to make sure that they can get up to speed so that they can be successful.


Lisa Marker Robbins  12:18  

I’ve always been a proponent of students starting, like I say, early like I would never want to see a 10th grader taking an AC t test for sure. But if their algebra two ready, they’re at least halfway or more through Algebra Two, to have a runway that allows for two to three, sometimes four attempts on the test. And if they do that, and they get this data and they see oh, I missing the benchmarks here, it’s not just about getting into college is really pointing to there’s a gap for your kid on their achievement curricularly. So you could go in for extra help with your teacher, get a tutor, do something over the summer to close the gaps.


Rose Babbington  13:03  

That’s exactly right. And, you know, we know that everyone, every one of us has strengths and has areas of improvement. And when you start looking down at those different subject areas, I think there’s always the opportunity for a student to say, Wow, I’m stronger in reading than I thought, look at how well I performed. Whereas if I’m looking over here at math, I can tell that there’s some gaps. And there’s some areas for improvement. The AC t score report breaks down those areas even more by talking about all right in the area of preparing for higher math, you only got three questions right in that section. Maybe this is an area in particular that you want to work on in preparation for the next test. And students who are testing at particular times during the school year can actually request and pay a little bit extra to get their actual test booklets back. So for students who are really focused on wanting to use that first AC t test experience to improve. There’s the ability to get your test back or get a copy of that test, and then use that as basically a roadmap to say where can I grow? Where can I improve for the next time I test?


Lisa Marker Robbins  14:13  

That has been a really valuable tool to many of the families that I’ve worked with. I know it’s April, June and December are the months that if a student takes the AC T on the Saturday national test date, they can I’m going to misquote this 20 ish dollars or so. I’m not sure. I will tell parents like don’t think that you’re going to have a the next week. Right? It’s a good six a weeks before you end up getting that. So if you’ve got to test dates, if you’re taking June and July, and you order that June test, you’re not going to have it back in time to prepare for July. So again, this is why I think that having a long runway of testing and plenty of time and things go you know my own daughter when she was taking her junior year Stateflow undid AC t here in the Cincinnati area. She literally the day before got the flu, she had done everything right leaving test day. This is pre COVID, influenza A and miserable now. So you’ve got to have a plan. And you really should be using this data to have the plan in place for sure.


Rose Babbington  15:20  

Absolutely. And we know that students have the flu, or they had a tough breakup, the week that they took the AC t test. So we know that the AC T reflects how a student performs that single day when they took the test. Which means I think it’s even more important to look at that score report and say, Well, gosh, my score in math doesn’t reflect what I know I can do. And I know that I’m really strong in this area, let me make sure that I’m using the right strategies that I’m really prepared going in so that I know my AC t score will reflect what I know I can do and what I’ve learned in high school.


Lisa Marker Robbins  15:57  

Well, you’re right, breakups happen, you know, life happens. And if you’ve got two or three, let’s go back to the college readiness benchmarks. If you’ve got two or three score reports, and you see consistency among those as far as like a gap or missing a college readiness benchmark on English, math, reading or science, then don’t just view it as let’s fix it or do whatever to get into college. It’s about being successful in the institution.


Rose Babbington  16:24  

Absolutely. I think back to my college admissions days when I was working at Ohio State. And I think about the number of conversations that we would have with high school seniors and sometimes college freshmen, who would come in saying, Well, yeah, I’m gonna be a doctor, I’ve always wanted to be a doctor that’s been on my plan, but I struggle in math, and then we look at their AC T scores, and they’d be really strong and maybe English and Science, and their math scores wouldn’t be there. And I think that in a lot of ways, the AC T can serve as a little bit of this helpful reality check to say, All right, if I’m a junior, and I know that I want to go into medicine. First of all, let me make sure that I have an awareness of what I need to do in college and after college to be successful. And also, maybe now’s the time to examine all of the other medical fields and options that I have, that don’t necessarily involve medical school and getting an MD There are so many different things that I hope that I think the AC t score report can open up in terms of dialogues and conversations, again, about what’s best for a student what they can be really successful at after high school.


Lisa Marker Robbins  17:33  

I think that reality check piece is important in my college major and career course where I guide students to identifying the right college major to then find the right colleges. We module one, talk about knowing yourself really well. And we talk about motivations and wire rings, but also getting real with yourself like I love watching stem type dramas on TV. But the reality is I Lisa, I have no aptitude and those STEM areas, you know, I’m better with people, and I’m better with words and messaging and things like that, with great inflation these days, which great inflation is real. I don’t know what you guys are seeing over on your side. But this correlation, I’ve seen a gap between like grades are higher, but yet AC T scores are lower. I mean, we had a previous podcast on this episode that I’ll link to in the show notes where we talked about grade inflation. The grade inflation makes kids unrealistic sometimes or their parents, we have to be realistic about what was required to be able to complete the curriculum. What are you guys seeing? Do you have any insights there?


Rose Babbington  18:43  

We have, we’ve released some research just in the last six months or so that states exactly what you just said that over the last decade, we saw a steady rise in GPA with a particular rise over the last three years. So really linking up with a lot of what we saw during the pandemic, while at the same time AC T scores declined over that same 10 year period. And certainly, again, tying in to what we’re talking about today to the 2022 AC T national data. I think this speaks to to the impact of the pandemic that students had so many different learning styles and learning modes. That grading was really challenging during that time period. What we’ve always said with the AC T is that this has been a steady, consistent and standard measure. That hasn’t changed when we’re talking about a student at one high school compared to another student and another high school in another state really having one set barometer where we can look at trends and where we can look at again those key standards and skills.


Lisa Marker Robbins  19:48  

Yeah, well that’s so helpful if you can send me both of the links to what you guys released on both of those studies that dropped the 30 year low on the AC T He and the other one on grades because we want families to really just have a good baseline for where their student is, so they can set themselves up for success in the future. Thanks for making time


Rose Babbington  20:14  

said that. And I’m so appreciative of what you’re doing to make sure that students and families are armed with all the information and we think that’s what the AC t score can help do to can help students advocate for themselves and have a really solid sense of where they are and where they want to be.


Lisa Marker Robbins  20:30  

Well, thanks for making time take care of us.


Rose Babbington  20:32  

Thank you so much, Lisa.


Lisa Marker Robbins  20:37  

I leave this episode reflecting on yet another negative impact of COVID. Another that is closely related is great inflation that we’ve seen at many high schools. This was discussed on episode number 42, which I’ll link to in the show notes. I think it’s an important lesson for all parents together, lower AC T scores and inflated grades point us in one direction, student achievement of college readiness skills, regardless of any greater score, it’s vital to your student and frankly, society that learning gaps are closed. My college bound challenge this week, is to closely look at your teens grades along with them. And at any AC T or LSAT scores then identify where your student may use some extra support so they not only get into the best college for them, but they are ready to succeed in college level classes. extra support can come in many forms, including asking their teacher for extra help. Engaging an academic tutor and self studying. The outcome will be better understanding reflected in grades and test scores. If today’s episode was helpful to you, and you are already following the podcast, please do. My goal is to support as many college bound students and their parents as possible. Thank you for listening to the College and Career Clarity podcast, where I help your family move from overwhelmed and confused, too motivated, clear and confident about your team’s future.