ACT Results – There’s More Than Meets the Eye

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ACT results were released this week for the Class of 2019 and the headline from the Nevada Independent reads, “ACT test scores show modest improvement but Nevada still ranks last“.

It’s true ACT results were released this week and Nevada had the lowest score of all the states that test 100% of their students. But something seems fishy about these results???


Nevada is significantly under performing all other states. Yet just 4 years earlier, in 2015, when these students were in 8th grade and had to take the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) test there was a very different ranking. The NAEP is the most important test in the country administered every two years by the U.S. Department of Education.

When we look at how those students performed on a common assessment, NAEP, as 8th graders in math we see that Nevada is near the middle of the pack.naep_g8_math_by_act_state

So how is it possible that all those states are doing so much better than Nevada on the ACT when just 4 years earlier Nevada students were in the middle of the pack???

The answer is in retake rates.

In states like Tennessee, Mississippi, and Louisiana over 65% of students retake the ACT. In other words, over 65% of their students are taking the ACT at least two times. In Nevada less than 19% of students retake the exam.act_retake_rates_by_state

Retake rates matter a lot.

When our students are in elementary and middle school and take the state assessment they are allowed to take as long as they want to finish the test. As long as the student is still working they can keep going. As a result students are able to think deeply about a problem and try to figure it out.

The ACT it is a rigorously timed test. So, if students spend too much time working on any individual problem they will run out of time and it will adversely impact their score. Getting use to this format and retaking the test greatly improves student results.

In fact, ACT has done research on this very topic. You can find that research here:

Multiple Testers: What Do We Know About Them?

Here’s a quote from that research:

“Repeat-testers’ latest scores had an average composite score 2.9 points higher than their single-test counterparts.”

So what do the results look like across states when we compare multiple test takers to other multiple test takers?


A very different picture emerges. Now Nevada is back in the middle of the pack like they were back in 8th grade when there was a level playing field. How about if we compare test takers who only take the test once?


Again Nevada is back in the middle of the pack. So what is going on here?

To investigate this question further let’s look at a comparison of Mississippi’s results and Nevada’s results. Now remember Nevada’s students left 8th grade well ahead of Mississippi’s students, but then on the ACT it seemed Nevada’s students were well behind Mississippi’s students.

Look at the chart below where we break out ACT performance by:

  • Students who take the test multiple times (blue dot)
  • All students (green dot)
  • Students who take the test only once (red dot)

Students in Nevada who took the test multiple times significantly outperformed students in Mississippi who took the test multiple times (21.8 vs. 19.5).

Students in Nevada who took the test only once outperformed students in Mississippi who took the test only once (16.9 vs. 16.2)

But overall Mississippi students on average outperformed Nevada students. Because less than 19% of Nevada students retook the test while 67% of Mississippi students retook the test. Notice that Nevada’s green dot is much closer to the average score of students who only took the test once, while Mississippi’s green dot is much closer to the average score of students who retake the test multiple times.


Below is the breakdown in scores for all states that test 100% of their students on the ACT. You can easily see it is not a fair comparison to compare the overall average score when states are not retaking the test at the same rates.

Below the close a state’s green dot is to the red dot the lower that state’s retake rate. Again, we see that Nevada’s dot is the closest one to the red dot because of our extremely low retake rates.

We are not giving our students the supports that they need to be successful on this test!


And YES our students achieve when we provide the proper supports.

At the same time ACT results seemed stagnant over the last few years, Nevada was the fasting improving in AP pass rates in the NATION!

Six years ago Nevada high school graduates significantly under performed the national average for AP pass rates. And at the same time graduation rates were increasing the percent of graduates passing an AP exam were increasing too! So the slice of pie was getting bigger while the pie was getting bigger too!

AP Pass Rates.jpg

We’ve also seen significant gains in students getting Advanced Diplomas. Over 3,000 more students in the Class of 2018 received an Advanced Diploma compared to the class of 2011.Advanced Diploma Count

We don’t have a higher count of Advanced Diploma’s because the cohorts were getting bigger. There is a higher rate of students in the cohort getting advanced diplomas.

In fact, 1 in 4 students in the Class of 2018 graduated with an Advanced Diploma. The highest rate ever achieved in Nevada!Advanced Diploma Rates

What’s the problem with ACT?

We’ve implemented a policy that requires every student in Nevada take the ACT to graduate, but we haven’t provided the resources and supports to schools to make sure the students are successful in that endeavor.

To see significant gains we need to provide supports that students, teachers, and schools have in Tennessee, Mississippi, and Louisiana.

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Las Vegas Strip and the Moon. Las Vegas Panorama at Night. Nevada, United States.

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