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PARCA Report: 2023 high school seniors set record for college and career readiness

College and career readiness rates rose significantly in 2023 but graduation rates remain below pre-pandemic highs.

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A report released on May 6 by the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama announced that the rate of college and career readiness amongst 2023 Alabama high school seniors is “the highest readiness rate ever recorded” according to study author Thomas Spencer.

To be marked as college or career ready, students must achieve certain scores on the ACT or ACT WorkKeys tests, earn college credit while in high school, take a series of career technical education courses, earn an industry certification, participate in an apprenticeship program, or enlist in the military.

Between 2022 and 2023, the percentage of students who met benchmarks on the ACT and/or ACT WorkKeys tests, earned college credit while in high school, and completed a CTE course progression all rose.

At 84 percent, the 2023 college and career readiness rate was five points higher than the rate in 2022 and even four points higher than the rate in 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic.

High school graduation rates in 2023, however, were still two percentage points below the 2019 pre-pandemic rate, even after a two percent increase over 2022 rates. While the current graduation rate is still below historic highs, Spencer writes that “Alabama’s high school graduation rate is among the highest in the country.”

Despite record high career and college readiness rates, some subgroups still recorded significantly lower readiness rates than the statewide average.

Gaps in graduation rates between subgroups were only a few percentage points but the college and career readiness rates of economically disadvantaged, Hispanic, and African American seniors were between five and eight points below the state average. 

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Additionally, Chickasaw, Coosa County, and Barbour County all had high school graduation and college and career readiness rates below 70 percent. Seven more Alabama counties and cities had graduation and readiness rates below eighty percent.

Fourteen high schools had graduation rates below 70 percent and eighteen more had graduation rates below 80 percent. One school, Saints Virtual Academy in Selma City, had a graduation rate of only 27 percent.

The Alabama Legislature presently seems likely to increase education funding for the next school year. On May 3, the state Senate passed an education budget with a 6.8 percent increase in funding over the previous year, but differences with the education budget that the House passed still have to be worked out.

The Senate’s budget would increase teachers’ pay and provide more state funding for schools with between 300 and 500 students to hire principals.

Alongside the report, PARCA also released an interactive online tool which can be used to look at graduation and readiness rates by city or county and by school, and changes to those rates since 2018.

Chance Phillips is a reporting intern at the Alabama Political Reporter. You can reach him at [email protected].

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