Those pushing for Common Core in Iowa promised that it would improve college readiness, and in particular, STEM programs. ACT released a report this week that shows only 31 percent of Iowa’s graduates who took the ACT (67 percent) met all four of ACT’s college readiness benchmarks. This compares to 32 and 32 percent of 2016 and 2013 graduates, respectively. Also, in Iowa, only 46 percent of students met three or four of the ACT College Readiness Benchmarks, compared to 39 percent nationally.

College readiness in decline.

A look at the five-year trends with each college readiness benchmark we can see there has been a decrease in each one except for reading which has been stagnant for the past three years.

Over the last five years, Iowa students have dropped five percentage points among those who met ACT’s college readiness benchmarks in English (benchmark score of 18) from 76 percent in 2013 to 71 percent in 2017. Iowa students have dropped five percentage points for college readiness in math (benchmark score of 22) from 50 percent in 2013 to 45 percent in 2017. The last three years 55 percent of Iowa students have met ACT’s college readiness benchmark for reading (benchmark score of 22). This year is only up one from 54 percent in 2013 and up three from 2014 that saw 52 percent of students reaching the benchmark score in reading. In science, only 45 percent reached the college readiness benchmark score of 23, down three from the five-year high in 2015 that saw 48 percent of students meet that benchmark.

Only 22 percent of Iowa graduates met ACT’s STEM college readiness benchmarks (score of 26) compared to 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2016 that saw 23 percent of students hit that benchmark.

If you look further back between 2007-2011, you can see an even greater decline except for science whose benchmark score was lowered from 24 to 23 starting in 2013.

The reading benchmark score was raised from 21 to 22 in 2013.

ACT describes the benchmark scores as a minimum score needed on a subject-area test that indicates a 50% chance of obtaining a B or higher or about a 75% chance of getting a C or greater in the corresponding credit-bearing college courses, which include English Composition, Algebra, Social Science, Biology, and STEM.

ACT Score Shows Decline.

Iowa’s average ACT composite score has remained steady over the last five years is down slightly at 21.9 in 2017 compared to 22.1 in 2013 and 2016, 22.2 in 2015, and 22.0 in 2014.

Looking back to 2007 this is the first time Iowa’s average ACT composite score has dropped below 22.0 and is down 1.2 points from the high score of 23.1 achieved in 2007, 2008, and 2009. The decline in the state’s average composite score does coincide with the implementation of the Common Core State Standards in Iowa.

Looking at average scores from 2007-2011 and 2013-2017 in English, Math, Reading, and Science is telling as well.

Scores in each subject at best have been stagnant. Scores in English, Math, and Reading were slightly higher before Common Core.

An achievement gap still exists, and it is worse.

African-American and Latino ACT average scores have dropped since Common Core while white students’ average scores have fluctuated by 0.2-0.3 points since 2007. The decline also coincides with a greater number of black and Latino students taking the ACT.


Using the ACT scores as an objective measurement, Common Core has failed to deliver on improving college readiness and reducing the achievement gap. ACT CEO Marten Roorda said, “What our education system is doing now is not working well enough for far too many of the country’s young people.”

He is right. Those who have implemented and defended Common Core and the latest education reform fads have a lot of explaining to do. The Iowa Legislature absolutely must work toward repealing Common Core, the Next Generation Science Standards, and encourage schools to instead use time-tested, data-backed methods instead of chasing the latest trend.

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