A record number of public high school graduates in the class of 2017 earned college-going scores on the ACT® exam, boosting the state’s average ACT® score for the fourth consecutive year, according to data released today by the Louisiana Department of Education. In the graduating class of 2017, 25,704 public school graduates earned a score of 18 or higher, generally allowing them admission to college without the need to retake high school classes. In the class of 2012, only 18,307 graduates achieved this level, an increase of 7,397 students over the last five years. The number of students meeting eligibility criteria for the Taylor Opportunity Program for Students (TOPS) scholarship also grew at every level of the scholarship award this year.

These sustained gains produced the fourth straight year of growth in the state’s public high school average ACT score, now at 19.6. The average score was 19.1 in 2013, the first year in which all public school graduates completed the ACT®.

“Four straight years of gains on the ACT® proves, beyond a doubt, that when you raise expectations for all students, they can achieve great things,” said State Superintendent John White. “It also proves we can go further. Our state’s plan to comply with the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) raises ACT® expectations from a level that allows basic admission to college to a level that demonstrates true readiness for college. Our students have accomplished a lot. When we raise the bar, they will accomplish more.”

Among the highlights, Louisiana’s 2017 ACT® scores show:

More graduates are achieving college-going ACT® scores. In the class of 2017, a record 25,704 students scored an 18 or above on the exam, and 15,406 students scored a 21 or above, an increase of 7,397 and 3,896 students, respectively, since 2012. Currently, the score of 18 currently earns schools an ‘A’ grade in the state’s high school rating system, as it is the performance level at which students admitted to college are generally not required to retake high school courses. Between 2018 and 2025, the rating system will gradually require a 21 in order for schools to earn A-level points, as it reflects true academic readiness for the next phase of education.

The public school average ACT® score climbed for the fourth year. Louisiana’s public school average ACT® score is now 19.6, an increase of 0.1 since last year, and 0.5 since 2013. Louisiana’s African-American students now have an average ACT® score of 17.5, outpacing the national average of 17. In September, the ACT® will produce a national report of every state’s average score, using the most recent test taken by every student in each state.

The number of Louisiana graduates meeting TOPS ACT eligibility requirements at every tier of the statewide scholarship program has reached record highs. More than 8,694 additional seniors are earning TOPS-qualifying scores of at least 17 today than in 2012.

More college opportunities exist for historically disadvantaged students. Across the board, historically disadvantaged students-African-American students, economically-disadvantaged students and students with disabilities-maintained performance on the ACT® since last year and made notable progress over time. Economically disadvantaged students made the most notable progress, increasing the number of students scoring 18 and above by 6,254 students, and the number of students scoring 21 and above by 2,963 students, since 2012. That’s a 95 and 90 percent jump, respectively, over time.

The results released today follow a five-year initiative by the Department, the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) and school systems statewide to provide increased access to post-secondary opportunities for all high school seniors. Since 2012:

– BESE adopted policy to give all high school students access to the ACT® assessment free of charge. Louisiana became the 10th state in the nation to expand ACT® access to all students in 2013. At the same time, ACT® and WorkKeys® were added as key components of high school accountability.

– The state enhanced the high school accountability system to incentivize not just high school completion but also post-secondary achievements like career credentials and Advanced Placement credits. The Department revamped diploma pathways to ensure every student graduates having taken a TOPS curriculum. Students now achieve TOPS and TOPS Tech by choosing either a Jump Start Career Diploma or the TOPS University Diploma.

–  Louisiana created dedicated funding streams to support these diplomas through career courses, dual enrollment courses and other course choices.

–  Louisiana strengthened teacher preparation through its Believe and Prepare program, in which the most successful teachers serve as mentors and train aspiring teachers, preparing them to enter the classroom ready to teach from day one. 

– Louisiana has also expanded on these initiatives to increase opportunity for historically underserved students.

– Schools have created transitional 9th grade programs to serve students who otherwise would have been held back in 8th grade.

– Act 833 allows diploma pathways for students struggling because of disabilities.

– Students with significant disabilities (LAA 1) now can achieve a high school diploma.

Since 2012, the BESE-approved policy changes have resulted in additional, increased opportunities for all high school students. Among the highlights:

– Louisiana’s 2016 high school graduation rate climbed to 77 percent, maintaining the record gains made by the class of 2015, and more students than ever before earned college credit and credentials valid in high-wage industries.

– More than 6,500 Louisiana high school students earned college-credit qualifying scores on Advanced Placement (AP®) exams in 2017, an increase of 10 percent since 2016 and of 137 percent since 2012.

– Louisiana is leading the nation in the College Level Examination Program, or CLEP®, with a 55 percent increase in the number of high school students earning college credit.

– In 2017, 65 percent of high school seniors submitted the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) by the July 1 priority deadline, an increase of 7 percent–more than 3,100 students–over last year’s cohort.