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ACT SCORES ON THE RISE: Class of 2006 Shows Improvement, but Majority of High School Graduates Still Unprepared for Success in College

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“The growth in the average ACT composite score is encouraging, particularly given the increase in the number of students taking the test,” said Richard L. Ferguson

Average scores on the ACT Assessment rose by the largest margin in 20 years, and the average score was the highest since 1991, but the majority of ACT-tested high school graduates are still likely to struggle in first-year college courses, according to the latest data from ACT, the organization that administers the test. An all-time high of more than 1.2 million students (40%) of the Class of 2006 took the ACT at some point during their high school career.

“The growth in the average ACT composite score is encouraging, particularly given the increase in the number of students taking the test,” said Richard L. Ferguson, ACT’s chief executive officer. “The results suggest that student academic achievement and college readiness are on the rise.”

In fact, the percentage of students who scored at or above the ACT College Readiness Benchmark score increased in all four subjects (English, math, reading, and science) over last year, but the majority of test takers continued to fall short. In reading, just over half (53%) of test takers met or exceeded the ACT benchmark score, an increase of 2% over 2005. Based on past ACT scores, students who receive at least a 21 on the ACT Reading Test are very likely to “succeed” (defined as earning a C grade or higher) in college-level courses such as history, sociology, literature, and others that require extensive reading. Nearly 7 in 10 (69%) met or exceeded the benchmark score in English, indicating that they are likely to succeed in college composition.

The results were not as positive in math and science. In math, only 42% of test takers met or exceeded the ACT benchmark, while only 27% met or exceeded the ACT benchmark in science. In total, only 21% of test takers met or exceeded the college readiness benchmark on all four ACT exams.

“[The] ACT results show a nation that is on the right track and moving forward, but far too slowly for the 21st Century,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings. “Less than half of all test-takers met the college readiness benchmark in math; for science, the number was one in four. This is too low. The ACT findings clearly point to the need for high schools to require a rigorous, four-year core curriculum and offer advanced coursework so that our graduates are prepared to compete and succeed in both college and the workforce.”

Slightly more than half (54%) of test takers reported taking ACT’s recommended core curriculum in high schools—4 years of English and 3 years of math (algebra and higher), science, and social studies. Students who took that core curriculum earned an average composite score (the average score from all four subjects) of 22.0. Students who took less than the recommended curriculum scored 19.7—more than 2 points lower. In spite of this positive correlation between a rigorous curriculum and a higher average ACT score, the test data reveal that the percentage of students taking the core curriculum has declined—56% of test takers reported taking a rigorous curriculum in 2005.

With the exception of Hispanic students, whose average composite score remained the same, students in all racial/ethnic groups saw an increase in their average ACT composite score. However, significant achievement gaps continue to exist, with Asian Americans (22.3) and white students (22.0) scoring higher than their American-Indian (18.8), Hispanic (18.8), and African-American (17.1) classmates.

Complete score information for each state and for the nation as a whole is available at http://www.act.org/news/data/06/index.html.

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