Freshman ACT score averages continue to lower each year

Worries about the ACT don’t end once a student finishes high school.

Members of the Baker University continue to show concern about lowering ACT scores of first-year students as an indicator of the college’s academic success.

According to information prepared by Assistant Dean of Institutional Effectiveness Judy Smrha, the average ACT score for this year’s freshmen was 23.0. This average is lower than last year’s average of 23.21, and scores have declined each year since 2002’s average of 23.68.

Smrha said though the drop in the score is not statistically significant, noticing the decline is important.

“There is not statistical significance, but there is nothing that indicates pure randomness either,” Smrha said. “The fact that there are four periods of downwardness, there is a 5 percent probability that it’s random.”

The other difference this year is ACT scores are in the 25th and 75th percentile measurements. Students’ composite scores in the 25th percentile are at 20, as opposed to the score of 21 in 2002. The number in the 75th percentile has remained the same.

These numbers have caused several faculty members and students to question what the meaning is for Baker. Such issues as what the numbers mean for Baker’s image, why the numbers are the way they are and what they mean in regards to the classroom experience have come up.

Comparison data regarding ACT scores indicate Baker is right at or near peer schools when it comes to 25th and 75th percentile scores. However, a couple of schools including William Jewell College have higher percentiles (Jewell sits at 23-28 as a composite score). When compared to other schools in Kansas, only the University of Kansas has a higher composite score at 22-27.

Interim Vice President of the College of Arts and Sciences Rand Ziegler said this information isn’t earth shattering, and he doesn’t have any major concerns about the issue. However, the percentile scores are printed in U.S. News & World Report.

“I would love to make these as high as possible. We want to attract the highest-quality students we possibly can to Baker,” Ziegler said. “I would love to see a trend up, and the only way you see a trend up is to require higher ACT scores.”

Ziegler said Baker must take into consideration several factors when thinking of why the ACT scores have changed in this manner. One factor may be the change in admissions standards that were approved by faculty senate and went into effect for the incoming class of 2005.

The standards were presented by the Academic Standards and Enrollment Management Committee and approved by faculty senate, which changed to a system of students meeting a two-out-of-three standard, based on ACT score, grade-point average and class rank. Those who do not meet those standards are given a chance to submit a dossier of information and complete an interview with members of the ASEM committee to be considered for admission.

“I think a continuous revisitation of our admissions criteria is our responsibility,” Ziegler said. “If I were on ASEM, I would want to think a little more carefully as to whether the GPA and class rank were reliable measures. I trust our admissions staff and the ASEM committee to deal with those issues.”

Sophomore Ashley Sims said she was “maybe a little” concerned about the drop.

“I’m not worried that we are getting lower quality students; it concerns me that they aren’t getting what they need in their high school classrooms, speaking as a future teacher,” Sims said. “I hope that Baker isn’t lowering their standards in making it easier for potential students. Overall, I hope professors can help those students learn the stuff they should have learned in high school.”

Regarding high school educations received, this year the number of students enrolled in EN 100, which must be taken if an English ACT sub-score is not met, is at 62, compared with 47 students enrolled last fall. Enrollment in the mathematics proficiency course MA 090 increased to 43 students, compared with last year’s number of 38.

Assistant Dean for Student Academic Services Lisa Johnston said four sections of EN 100 were offered this fall, while there were “fewer classes offered in the past.”

“There are a couple of factors. The language and literature department is very involved in students having a productive experience in class,” Johnston said. “We just had a group of a reasonable size who had an ACT score in that range.”

Professor of English Preston Fambrough was on the committee that approved those standards, and he said though the decision was made “democratically,” he “would have been more comfortable with a somewhat higher set of criteria.”

“I guess I would say … the role of ASEM is to try to balance two conflicting needs of the university at this point in its history,” Fambrough said. “On one hand, it needs to reach certain enrollment quotas in order to function effectively financially. On the other hand, it needs to limit our student body to those who can truly contribute to it and profit from the intellectual dialogue that is higher education”

Even so, Fambrough said he understood the position of being between a rock and hard place when deciding admissions standards, and said Baker “cannot in the immediate future limit enrollment at Baker to fully qualified students.”

“I don’t have a solution,” Fambrough said. “I’m not sure anyone does. I suppose … what most teachers do is choose a level of discourse in the classroom. In every class, I have students who are under-challenged and those who are not able to keep up.”

Vice President of Enrollment Management Louise Cummings-Simmons is also a member of the ASEM committee.

She said she is assuming the number changes in ACT scores will be a topic in the upcoming meetings and is something she said is good to do in a new year.

“Selecting college is not about the numbers. It is about a good fit. I would love to have a higher ACT average,” Cummings-Simmons said.

The ASEM committee will meet today to discuss the numbers.