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ACT Proficiency by Race/Ethnicity & Income

Disparities in ACT proficiency exist by race/ethnicity and income for Lincoln Public Schools students

A complex set of factors influence student achievement on college admission exams such as the ACT and SAT. Concerns also exist about the predictive validity of college admission exams, such as the ACT and SAT, as research finds similar, or even stronger, correlations between high school GPA and first-year college GPA compared to correlations between standardized exam score and first-year college GPA.1 However, college admissions testing is still important for students as it can be a determining factor for admission, scholarships, and course placement.

Family income and exposure to poverty are key factors associated with academic achievement. Children in low-income families begin formal schooling well behind their more affluent peers in terms of academic skills, and they often never close these gaps during subsequent school years.2 There exists a strong relationship between students’ educational outcomes, their household income, and the educational attainment of their caregivers, regardless of race or ethnicity. This relationship has been found in studies looking at the individual, school, district, state, and national level. In other words, differences in educational outcomes cannot be separated from differences in caregiver’s background.3

Disparities in standardized admissions testing has been a focus of research for decades, and some colleges have attempted to avoid testing bias against students of color and students from less economically advantaged backgrounds in their admission process by not requiring ACT or SAT scores for admission and instead using a more holistic approach that focuses on students’ extracurricular activities and character merits. This, however, may also serve to continue disparities by using definitions of merit that favor wealthier families, and wealthier families may also be in a better position to more vigilantly pursue these activities to secure college admission, presenting a dilemma for students, colleges, and policymakers.3

In the 2021 to 2022 school year:

  • Overall, 46.7% of all LPS students meet ACT expectations.
  • 26.3% of students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch (a proxy for low-income4) met ACT expectations.
  • 54.3% of students identified as White met ACT expectations.
  • 62.3% of students identified as Asian met ACT expectations.
  • 23.0% of students identified as Black or African American students met ACT expectations.
  • 26.7% of identified as Latino/a or Hispanic students met ACT expectations.
  • 33.0% of students identified as Two of More Races met ACT expectations.

Nebraska Department of Education. (2022). Nebraska Education Profile (formerly Nebraska State of Schools Reports).

Percent of Lincoln Public School students meeting ACT expectations reported as an average percent across subjects (English Language Arts, Mathematics, Science).

  1. Allensworth, E. M., & Clark, K. (2020). High School GPAs and ACT Scores as Predictors of College Completion: Examining Assumptions About Consistency Across High Schools. Educational Researcher, 49(3), 198-211.
  2. Duncan, G., Magnuson, K., and E. Votruba-Drzal. (2017). Moving Beyond Correlations in Assessing the Consequences of Poverty. Annual Review of Psychology 68:1, 413-434.
  3. Thomsen, J.-P. (2018). Test-Based Admission to Selective Universities: A Lever for First-Generation Students or a Safety Net for the Professional Classes? Sociology, 52(2), 333–350.
  4. In general, students are eligible for free lunch if their household income is less than 130% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines, and eligible for reduced lunch if their household income is less than 185% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines. In the 2023-24 school year, students in a family of four with a household income less than $39,000 would be eligible for free lunch, and those with a household income less than $55,500 would be eligible for reduced lunch. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Service. (2023). Child nutrition programs: Income eligibility guidelines. Federal Register/Vol. 88, No. 27/Thursday, February 9, 2023. https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/FR-2023-02-09/pdf/2023-02739.pdf