October 2017


Educate Nebraska  |  October 2017


The ACT is a nationally recognized standardized test taken by high school students in the United States. The test measures students’ learning and college preparedness and includes assessments in English, math, reading and science. This report examines student performance on the ACT in Nebraska.

While Nebraska’s 84% ACT participation rate is high, not all students who graduated from a Nebraska high school in 2017 took the exam. Absent 100% student participation, it is difficult to draw conclusions about overall student achievement and college preparedness in Nebraska or to make conclusive statements regarding how Nebraska students perform compared to those in the rest of the country.

According to data provided by the Nebraska Department of Education, students attending public high schools that perform worse than the state average on Nebraska math and reading assessments are less likely to take the ACT than students attending higher performing public high schools, suggesting the average score will dip as participation increases. Starting with the 2018 graduating class, 100% of public school students in Nebraska will participate in the ACT.

Despite the current limitations of student performance data, we can compare Nebraska public school student ACT outcomes to the Nebraska composite nonpublic school and public school student ACT outcomes. In doing so, one must still consider the participation rate for both groups (public only and public and nonpublic combined).

Unless otherwise noted, the following data is taken from the ACT scores of 2017 high school graduates who took the exam during their sophomore, junior, or senior year in high school.


How students in Nebraska compare to the rest of the nation

Compared to the National ACT average, Nebraska graduates performed slightly better:

Overall composite scores

Nebraska 21.4
National 21

Black and Latino graduates in Nebraska, on average, performed worse than white graduates:

Composite scores by race

Black 17.6
Latino 18.4
White 22.4

Compared to the national average, Latino students in Nebraska are much less likely to meet all four benchmarks compared to their peers; white students in Nebraska are less likely to meet all four benchmarks; and black students in Nebraska are as likely as black students in the rest of the nation to meet all four benchmarks.


Nebraska – students meeting all four benchmarks

Black 6%
Latino 9%
White 34%


National –  students meeting all four benchmarks

Black 6%
Latino 14%
White 35%


Separating public and nonpublic school performance data

The prior information includes ACT outcome information for students in both public and nonpublic schools in Nebraska. This can be broken down further to include only public school student outcome averages.

While not directly reported, data from the Nebraska Department of Education suggests a greater percentage of nonpublic schools students take the ACT than do public school students. Still, according to the Department’s data, less than 10% of 12th graders in Nebraska attended nonpublic schools in the spring of 2017. Therefore, any difference in performance between public school only student performance data and public and nonpublic school performance combined data suggests a significant gap between public and nonpublic student performance.


Nebraska composite score

Public and nonpublic 21.4
Public only 21.1


Nebraska composite score by race

Public and nonpublic Public only
Black 17.6 17.4
Latino 18.4 18.2
White 22.4 22.1


Nebraska students meeting all four benchmarks by race

Public and nonpublic Public only
Black 6% 4%
Latino 9% 5%
White 34% 23%


A Closer Look: Private School Performance in Omaha and Lincoln


According to the Nebraska Department of Education, roughly 50% of nonpublic school 12th graders in Nebraska during the 2016-17 school year attended an Omaha area Catholic high school (Creighton Prep, Duchesne Academy, Gross, Marian, Mt. Michael, Mercy, Roncalli, or Skutt). The Omaha Archdiocese, which includes the Omaha area schools as well as all high schools in the Omaha Archdiocese (Archbishop Bergan in Fremont, Cedar Catholic in Hartington, Central Catholic in West Point, Holy Family in Lindsay, Norfolk Catholic in Norfolk, Pope John XXIII in Elgin, Scotus Central in Columbus, St. Francis in Humphrey, and Aquinas in O’Neill), does report ACT performance data for its students, 97% of which participate:


Omaha Archdiocese NE Public Only NE Public and Nonpublic
All Students 24.7 21.1 21.4
Black Students 20.6 17.4 17.6
Latino Students 23.2 18.2 18.4



Lincoln Pius X is the largest nonpublic high school in Nebraska, with 309 students making up the 2016-17 senior class. Ninety-five percent of 2017 Lincoln Pius X graduates participated in the ACT, with an average composite score of 24.8. Fifty-one percent of Lincoln Pius X students met all four college benchmarks (compared to 19% in public only Nebraska high schools).  



Student performance data, as reported by ACT, the Nebraska Department of Education, and both the Omaha and Lincoln Archdiocese shows that nonpublic school student performance has a significant overall positive effect on the average ACT scores in Nebraska. Performance by Latino students attending a nonpublic school in Nebraska, and in the Omaha Archdiocese in particular, is noteworthy as it relates to Nebraska student performance overall and for Latino students as a whole.