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While National ACT Scores Decrease, Individual States Show Improvement

by Kelly Petty, published

If high tuition and student debt weren't enough of a barrier to enter college, scoring well on national entrance exams may become a new problem for those looking to pursue higher education. According to recently released data for the ACT, college entrance exams show that students still struggle to reach academic benchmarks.

The national composite score for ACT test-takers decreased slightly from 21.1 to 20.9.

Though the percentage of students exceeding ACT benchmarks improved, the numbers over the last 4 years have been lackluster.

For 2013, 64 percent of students met benchmarks for English. Yet, looking at 5-year figures from 2009-2013, college readiness benchmarks for English actually decreased by about 3 percent.

The same could be said for reading, which showed that 44 percent of students attained benchmarks for the subject, as compared to the 53 percent of students in 2009 who met the standards.

The study also found that black, Hispanic, and American Indian students struggle to meet benchmarks for the 4 ACT subjects. Math, science, English, and reading standards were not met for 50 percent or more of any of these ethnic groups.

The ACT measures readiness — the ability for a students entering college to take first year courses without remediation.

ACT CEO John Whitmore cautioned that work needs to be done to close the achievement gap with minority students, though he did applaud the efforts of states who are transforming their academic programs.

“We are encouraged to see efforts already underway to address readiness issues,” Whitmore said. “Individual states are making bold efforts to improve college and career readiness, including strengthening learning standards. The Common Core State Standards, which ACT helped develop, are raising the bar.”

Georgia, for example, held a steady composite score of 20.7 for a second year in a row. It was up from the 20.6 it posted in 2011, with improvements in English and reading. The state’s math scores dropped a bit while science scores stayed the same,

The scores of black and Hispanic students outperformed national averages. Black students earned a composite score of 17.5, compared to the national average of 16.9. Hispanics earned a composite score of 19.9, compared to the nation’s 18.8.

Despite these successes, the state DOE looks to future programs to increase academic achievement between black and white students and improve college and career readiness for all.

“These numbers are very encouraging, but we must close the achievement gap between white and minority students,” said State School Superintendent Dr. John Barge. “As we implement the Career Pathways/Clusters initiative, I believe students will see more relevance in courses they are taking and will be more engaged in their academic careers. That will translate into an even larger number of students being ready for college and careers.”

The results of the ACT factor into how well new academic programs are working, as well as assess whether certain students are prepared for higher education or the workforce.

Only 36 percent of ACT takers earned the benchmarks for science. Those results may reflect on the effectiveness of STEM initiatives and could offer policymakers insight into how to improve science standards.

The ACT results also determined that education, marketing/sales, and computer/information careers would be in demand by 2020. Yet, only 6 percent of test-takers pursued education, while only 2 percent of students pursued the other career fields.

“It is critical that we identify and address problems in academic achievement early in a student’s academic career, so that they can get on track for readiness as soon as possible,” said Jon Erickson, ACT president of education. “This is not about college readiness alone, but about readiness for taking the next step, whether it’s entering the workforce, attending a trade school, or enrolling in a two- or four-year college or university.”



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