Nevada's small slice of college-bound students exceed ACT's national average

National reports may rank Nevada’s public school system dead last, but its class of 2013 scored higher than the national average on the ACT, which is taken by college-bound students.

However, that seemingly promising report revealed by ACT Inc. on Wednesday comes with a big disclaimer.

First, the bright side.

The average composite score for Nevada’s students was 21.3 out of 36 possible points, a little higher than the national average of 20.9. Nevada tied with Montana, ranking 25th among the states. Still, the nation’s average score isn’t a high mark to meet, said Jon Whitmore, CEO of the testing agency.

“Once again, our data show that high school success and college readiness are not necessarily the same thing,” he said.

ACT Inc. also looks at the percentage of test-takers attaining a certain score in all four subjects, an indicator of college success. About 66 percent of Nevada’s test-takers met the English benchmark of 18; 48 percent met the reading cut of 22; 47 percent met the math benchmark of 22; and 37 percent met the science benchmark of 23. Those pass rates are anywhere from 1 to 4 percentage points better than the national average.

But Nevada’s graduation rate is one of the lowest in the nation, and so is the percentage of students who take the voluntary college entrance exam. The scores may be above average in Nevada, but the participation rate is far below much of the nation.

Just 7,602 members of the Silver State’s class of 2013 took the ACT, which represents about 32 percent of Nevada’s high school graduates. Nationwide, graduates’ ACT participation rates were lower in 14 other states.

Also, Nevada posts the third-worst graduation rate in the country, according to an Education Week report released at the end of last school year. The Nevada Department of Education has not released the 2013 graduation rate yet, but it stood at 63 percent in 2012.

While 25 percent of Nevada’s ACT-takers met all four benchmarks for college success, that represents just 5 percent of all Nevada seniors. But Nevada student performance on the ACT has remained steady or shown slight improvement since 2009.

Nevada Interim Superintendent of Schools Rorie Fitzpatrick declined to comment because she had not seen the report.

A lot is about to change though.

The ACT soon will be mandatory for all Nevada juniors.

The state Legislature passed a bill this spring requiring every junior to take a college and career readiness exam, starting in 2014-15. But students will not have to attain a certain score to graduate, as required with the state’s four-part High School Proficiency Exam, which the Legislature mandated must be replaced.

A 100 percent participation rate will merely provide a more accurate barometer as to whether students are prepared for the next step, which states need, said Jon Erickson, ACT president of education.

“This is not about college readiness alone but about readiness for taking the next step,” he said, “whether it’s entering the workforce, attending a trade school or enrolling in a two- or four-year college.”

Contact reporter Trevon Milliard at tmilliard@review journal.com or 702-383-0279.