Did States with Charter Schools Cluster Below W.Va. in ACT Scores?

Apr 8, 2019

West Virginia state Sen. Mike Romano, a Democrat, recently took a swipe at charter schools.

A Feb. 2 tweet by the West Virginia Senate Democrats quoted Romano criticizing a low ranking for the state in a report published by the American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative group. Romano sought to turn the tables by offering a more favorable ranking for West Virginia -- the state’s test scores for the ACT, a major college entrance exam -- and by taking a shot at charter schools, which West Virginia doesn’t allow.

“We hear we are ranked 47th. I could never figure out where that came from, but I finally did, it was ALEC. I have put on your desk the rankings of ACT test scores, WV is 30th. Which states are listed in the bottom? 15 states with charter schools. #wvpol #SB451”

We found the ALEC report stating that West Virginia is ranked 47th in the nation. The group calculated that rating based on state academic standards, charter schools, homeschool regulation burden, private school choice, teacher quality, and digital learning.

That’s a different measurement than ACT scores. So is Romano correct that West Virginia ranks 30th in ACT scores nationally, and that every state lower on the rankings has charter schools? We took a closer look. (Romano’s office did not respond to inquiries.)

ACT Score Rankings

We looked at a report summarizing the 2018 average ACT scores by state, and West Virginia did indeed rank 30th.

We found 18 states that ranked below West Virginia: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Hawaii, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Wyoming. (Two states had equal composite scores to West Virginia -- North Dakota and Ohio -- but we’ll set those states aside for this analysis.)

How many of these states have a law allowing charter schools? Based on data from a report by the National Center for Education Statistics, most of these states allow charter schools. Specifically, of the 18 states that ranked below West Virginia, all but Kentucky, Montana and Nebraska allow charter schools.

Case closed? Not so fast.

The reality is that by now, most states allow charter schools -- 43 states, to be exact. So the list of states ranking above West Virginia is also chock-full of charter school states. In fact, every single state ranking above West Virginia except for North Dakota, South Dakota and Vermont allows charter schools.

So there’s not really a pattern by which charter school states are clustering below West Virginia. Rather, charter school states are clustering both above and below West Virginia in the ACT rankings

And there’s another problem. The ACT summary warns that it’s important to choose states carefully when making comparisons. The summary recommends only comparing states that have similar rates of taking the ACT. Why? The smaller the percentage of statewide graduates tested, the more likely it is that stronger, college-bound students will take the test, thereby producing higher scores.

For West Virginia, that means the state can only be meaningfully compared to a small subset of states, rendering suspect the 50-state comparison Romano used.

Specifically, about one-third of states tested 100 percent of graduates; another eight states had testing frequency between 53 percent and 77 percent; and the remainder of states tested between 7 percent and 43 percent of their graduates.

In West Virginia, 65 percent of West Virginia graduates took the ACT, putting the state in that middle category of eight comparable states.

And among those eight states, West Virginia finished in the middle of the pack, behind Iowa, Georgia, Kansas, and South Dakota and ahead of Arizona, Florida, and New Mexico. Three of the states ahead of West Virginia have charter schools, while all three below West Virginia have charter schools. Once again, there’s no clear pattern.

Our Ruling

Credit Politifact

Romano said that in the state rankings for ACT test scores, West Virginia “is 30th. Which states are listed in the bottom? 15 states with charter schools.”

West Virginia did rank 30th in 2018 for ACT scores, but that’s where Romano’s accuracy ends. There are lots of charter-school states that rank below West Virginia -- but also lots of charter-school states that rank above West Virginia, simply because most states now allow charter schools.

We rate the statement Mostly False.