Michael Q. McShane

Numbers are beginning to roll in on the performance of Missouri’s students on several major national assessments administered last year. Brace yourself for the findings—they are deeply troubling.

More than three-quarters of Missouri’s class of 2015 took the ACT, an admissions test that is also designed to tell whether students have a strong likelihood (a 75 percent chance) of earning a “C” or higher in introductory college courses in four subject areas. For English, the minimum required score to be deemed “college-ready” is 18, for math it is 22, for reading 22, and for science 23 (all out of 36).

Only 30 percent of students scored college-ready in all four tests. In other words, seven out of ten were judged to be unprepared for college in one or more of the four areas. While a high of 71 percent of students scored college-ready in English, the scores dropped sharply in the other subjects: 51 percent in reading, 44 percent in math, and 42 percent in science.

Even more troubling is the performance of African-American students. Only 6 percent of African-American students scored college-ready in all four tests. On the individual tests, 37 percent of African-American students scored college-ready in English, 19 percent in reading, 13 percent in math, and 12 percent in science.

On advanced placement (AP) exams—which indicate how many students are likely not only to pass, but to excel in different subject areas—the state did even worse. Here the gold standard is a score of 3 or better on a 1-to-5 scale, enabling high-scoring students to obtain advance credit for courses such as calculus and physics prior to their arrival at college.

Though class-wide numbers are still emerging, it is already clear that Missouri, once again, has under-performed all but a handful of other states in AP tests. This is the same story as last year, when only 9.5 percent of Missouri graduates passed at least one AP exam. In Massachusetts—the highest performing state—28 percent of graduating students, or three times as many as in Missouri, passed one or more of the tests of college-level proficiency in challenging subjects.

Out of approximately 20,000 African-American high school juniors and seniors in public schools in Missouri last year, only 55 black students met the standard in AP English literature, 44 did so in U.S. history, 24 in calculus, 8 in chemistry, 7 in physics, and 6 in computer science. In total, that is just seven of every thousand students who are already working at a college level in one or more of these subjects while still in high school.

The numbers tell an alarming story. First, our schools are underperforming across the state. Preparing only 30% of students for college-level work isn’t going to work. Second, our schools’ poor performance is particularly egregious for black students.

We need to upgrade our education system almost everywhere, but a good start would be providing choice for African-American students trapped in the worst public schools. A school system that empowered parents rather than bureaucrats to make the most important decisions in children’s lives would maximize the likelihood of reversing these troubling statistics.

About the Author

Michael McShane
Senior Fellow of Education Policy

Mike McShane is Senior Fellow of Education Policy for the Show-Me Institute. He is a former high school teacher and earned his PhD in Education Policy at the University of Arkansas. Before coming to the Show-Me Institute, Mike worked at the American Enterprise Institute as a research fellow.