ACT scores show 3 in 10 high school grads lagging

Members of the high school class of 2011 posted a slight gain on the ACT college entrance exam, but nearly three in 10 recent graduates failed to meet a single benchmark that predicts they are ready for college.

Twenty-five percent of ACT test-takers met the college-readiness standard in the four core subjects of English, math, reading and science. That’s a slight increase over last year and the third straight year of such improvement. The average composite score of 21.1 on the test’s 1-to-36 scale is a one-tenth of a percent increase from the previous year and restores the national average to where it was in 2009.

But another 28 percent of students didn’t score high enough to meet any of the ACT standards for expected college success, and will likely need remedial college work to catch up.

Officials with ACT Inc., the Iowa City, Iowa-based not-for-profit that administers the test, joined policymakers in a call for more rigorous high school courses. Forty-five states and the District of Columbia have adopted the Common Core State Standards, a group of academic recommendations that aim to create a uniform definition of what skills students are taught, regardless of where they go to school.

“These ACT results are another sign that states need to raise their academic standards and commit to education reforms that accelerate student achievement,” Education Secretary Arne Duncan said.

Each ACT subject-area test has a benchmark that sets minimum scores needed to give students a 50 percent chance of earning a ‘B’ or higher and a 75 percent chance of earning a ‘C’ or higher in a typical first-year college course.

A record 1.62 million students in the class of 2011 — nearly half of all high school graduates — took the ACT, the seventh consecutive increase for the college entrance exam. Scores on the SAT, the other primary college entrance exam in this country, have not yet been released for 2011.

Nationally, the latest ACT results show a wide variation of student performance for the four subject areas. Nearly two-thirds met the college readiness standard for English, and more than half performed similarly on the reading tests.

Forty-five percent met the readiness benchmark for math, while just 30 percent of graduates met the science standard.

“We have a long way yet to go,” said Jon Erickson, interim president of ACT’s education division. “Being ready and prepared as you leave high school is an important variable for college success.”

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