SIDEBAR: Course Taking and Test Performance

The American College Testing (ACT) Assessment is another national college-entrance examination whose results are used by many college administrators as part of their admissions procedures. [15] Students taking the ACT are asked to self-report details of the high school curriculum that they have taken.

ACT officials have identified a certain series of high school courses as "core" courses, i.e., those that are recommended as college preparatory courses. [16] By correlating the self-reported coursework data with the ACT test scores, ACT officials are able to compare the scores of students who have taken at least the core courses with the scores of students who have taken less than the core curriculum. Students who completed the core subjects scored higher on the ACT tests than those who had not taken all the core courses. An encouraging note is that ACT officials report that over 57 percent of the ACT-tested 1994 high school graduates reported that they had taken the core coursework, a 2.4 percent gain over the 1993 proportion, and an increase of 19 percent since 1987. [17]

In every racial/ethnic group, the composite scores of the students who took the core courses were at least 12 percent above the composite scores of those who had not. An analysis of students taking the core courses reveals a pattern of less participation by the underrepresented minorities. (See figure 2-11.) All ethnic groups, however, are increasing their participation in the core curriculum. In 1993, for example, a majority of white, Asian, and Puerto Rican students took the core courses, but a majority of black and American Indian students did not take the core course series in that year, and the number of Mexican American students who took the core courses was virtually even with the number who did not. In 1994, in contrast, a majority of students from all racial/ethnic groups except one took the core courses.

See appendix table 2-31.

American Indians were the one exception, and those students who took the core course of study scored 17 percent higher on the composite score than the students who did not complete the core coursework, the highest percentage difference in scores of any racial/ethnic group. A majority of both males and females in the American Indian group did not take the core courses (47 percent for both sexes); this ethnic group was the only one in which a majority of the females did not take the core courses. (See appendix table 2-31.) Only a minority of black males took the basic core curriculum (48 percent), whereas a majority of both males and females from all other racial/ethnic groups took at least the core curriculum in 1994.

Analyzed by type of ACT test, females scored higher than their male counterparts in the English and reading tests. Mirroring the results in the SAT mathematics scores, females in each racial/ethnic group scored lower than their male counterparts on the ACT mathematics and science reasoning tests. (See appendix table 2-31.) Across racial/ethnic lines, however, many females scored higher than males in other groups. In fact, female Asians scored higher on the mathematics test than all non-Asian males, for both the core group and those not taking the core curriculum.

[15] ACT officials report that college-bound students who take the ACT Assessment are in some respects not representative of college-bound students nationally. First, students who live in the Midwest, the Rocky Mountains and Plains, and the South are overrepresented among ACT-tested students as compared with college-bound students nationally. In addition, ACT-tested students tend to enroll in public colleges and universities more frequently than do college-bound students nationally (American College Testing Program 1994b).
[16] ACT officials define a "core or more" program as consisting of 4 or more years of English, 3 or more years of mathematics, 3 or more years of social studies, and 3 or more years of natural science. "Less than core" refers to any high school program consisting of fewer courses than those included in core or more.
[17] American College Testing Program 1994b, p.3.

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