ND High School Grad Rate Up, College Readiness?

NPR has a story today about a few trends that are taking place in education. Nationally and in North Dakota the picture looks good; we’re at all-time-highest graduation rates! But that’s just the appearance at first blush. NPR enlisted 14 reporters to look deeper into the issue, and what they found reveals a more complicated picture; one that might not be ideal.

The analysis by NPR points to three factors that are most responsible for higher national graduation rates.

  1. Stepping in Early: If you keep kids on track from an early age, school systems will be more likely to get them through to graduation.
  2. Lowering the Bar: One way to make graduation rates climb is to make it the requirements easier to meet.
  3. Gaming the System: In the high-stakes game of federal allocations where performance is a metric, making a dropout look like something other than a dropout can be the difference in millions of dollars.

The NPR articles are worth your time. Here’s the overview article with state-by-state statistics. Here’s the presentation on the factors that are changing graduation rates.

What About North Dakota?

The article got me looking at the performance of North Dakota as a whole. Between 2011 and 2013, our graduation rates climbed from 86% to 88%. That’s a good trend, but how are we getting there? I didn’t reach out to educators for this article, so commenting on that would be inappropriate, but ACT scores do allows us to track performance.

And since 2011, nearly 100% of North Dakota graduates take the ACT — that will allow us to watch reliably trends moving forward.

About the ACT’s Benchmark Score

The Benchmarks are scores on the ACT subject-area tests that represent the level of achievement required for students to have a 50% chance of obtaining a B or higher or about a 75% chance of obtaining a C or higher in corresponding credit-bearing first-year college courses.

The tables below show the percentage of  2011 and 2014 ACT-tested graduates in North Dakota who met or exceeded theACT College Readiness Benchmark score in each subject.

North Dakota’s 2011 ACT College Readiness Benchmark

2011 Percent Tested Composit English Math Reading Science
North Dakota 98 21 63 43 48 26

Source: ACT

North Dakota’s 2014 ACT College Readiness Benchmark

2014 Percent Tested Composit English Math Reading Science
North Dakota 100 20.6 62 41 42 34

Source: ACT

What Does it Mean?

It’s too early to learn much from this data — there’s not enough of it, but there are a couple things worth watching. First, reading scores dropped significantly; it could be the result of a change in the ACT’s testing method; it could be a trend we need to worry about.

Second, science scores are moving in the right direction.

Finally, in English and math, we seem to be treading water, but overall, it seems like we’re sending a lot of kids off to college who aren’t prepared academically.

If there are any educators out there — college or high school, please share your thoughts in the comments.


Josh Wolsky

Developer & Writer @TheMinot Voice, Fan of the Souris River, There's a lot to Savor about Minot. Fortunate to be a 'former' City Council member ;)