Iowa’s ACT scores up slightly, remain among nation’s highest


Iowa high school graduates’ average ACT scores increased slightly this year and remain among the highest nationally.

The average composite score for Iowa students who graduated this year was 22.3 1.1 points higher than the national average and tied for ninth best nationwide. Among the 26 states that had at least half their graduates taking the test, Iowa tied for second with Wisconsin. Minnesota was first with a 22.5 average score.

The results were released Wednesday by ACT, the Iowa City-based nonprofit that owns the college entrance exam. Scores range from 1 to 36 and cover math, science, English and reading. Colleges and universities nationwide use them to help determine admissions, scholarships and academic advising.

Iowa’s score increased 0.2 percentage points from a year ago, when it ranked third nationally. Sixty-six percent of the state’s graduating seniors took the exam.

“The educational improvements we’ve put in place are paying off,” said Linda Nelson, president of the Iowa State Education Association. “But we’re not content to rest on our laurels. Iowa’s teachers pledge to continue focusing on the things that really make a difference for student achievement.”

Nationally, the high school class of 2007 posted a modest increase, extending the test’s upward scoring trend and showing improved levels of preparation for college.

Still, the results highlight the persistent gap between the preparation levels of high school graduates and the skills they need to do well in college. Only 23 percent of test-takers met a benchmark score that indicates readiness in a range of introductory, core college courses.

The national average ACT composite score rose from 21.1 last year to 21.2, extending its recent pattern of slight but noticeable increases.

The ACT says one-year trends are not necessarily meaningful, but that the average scoring increase of 0.4 points since 2003 is significant, considering 1.3 million of this year’s high school graduates took the test.

“Surely we have a lot of work ahead to be sure all students graduate from high schools with the skills they need to succeed at the next level, but we do seem to be making some encouraging progress,” said Richard Ferguson, ACT’s CEO and chairman.

The ACT believes the gains reflect genuine improvements in learning, but interpreting the results is complicated by the changing composition of the pool of people who take the ACT.

In some states, growth is coming from relatively low scorers who may not have taken any standardized tests in the past, and who weigh down average scores. But in other states, such as Connecticut, New Jersey and California, much of the growth appears to be coming from a different group: high achievers who also took the SAT and are increasingly trying the ACT, too, in hopes of impressing selective colleges.

The ACT doesn’t know how many students take both tests, but overall, 42 percent of this year’s high school graduates took the ACT, up from 40 percent last year.

Both exams are accepted by most colleges, and a growing number of colleges don’t require standardized test scores at all. The ACT, traditionally more popular in the South and Midwest, is more curriculum-based. The SAT still predominant on the East and West Coasts focuses more on basic math, verbal and writing skills.

Colorado and Illinois are the only two states that administered the ACT to all of last year’s graduating seniors. Michigan began doing so with its high school juniors this spring, and Kentucky and Wyoming will begin administering the test to all 11th graders next year.

Nationally, average composite scores edged up in each of the four individual tests English, math, reading and science. Average composite scores for black students fell 0.1 points to 17.0, while scores for Hispanics rose 0.1 to 18.7. Scores for both groups are up slightly since 2003; however, the number of blacks and Hispanics taking the exam is growing at twice the overall rate.

Forty-three percent who took the ACT math exam met the test’s benchmark for college readiness, up from 40 percent a year ago. In the science the figure was 28 percent, up from 26 percent last year. The percentage who met the benchmark in all four subjects rose from 21 percent to 23 percent.

SAT results for the class of 2007 will be released later this month.

In releasing its results, the ACT reiterated its long-standing case for more rigor in high school coursework. The organization encourages students to take a minimum of four years of English, and three each of math, social studies and science. Students who had taken those courses or more averaged 22.0 on the exam; students who had not averaged 19.8.

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