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Growth in ACT Participation Fueled By Blacks, Hispanics

More Black and Hispanic high school graduates are taking the ACT, but they continue to post the lowest composite score averages, according to the ACT College Readiness Report released Wednesday.

Since 2003, Black participation in ACT has grown 18 percent, while the number of Hispanic test-takers has increased 23 percentage points. Overall growth in the number of high school graduates taking the college admission and placement exam was 11 percent.

A record 1.3 million graduating seniors took the test this year, earning an average composite score of 21.2 up from 21.1 last year, on a scale of 36. Scores improved in all four subject areas — English, math, science and reading.

The 2007 average composite score rose for the third time in the past five years. Nearly all racial/ethnic groups have seen a rise in scores since 2003. This year, all groups — except Blacks whose scores dipped 0.1 from the previous year — reported an increase in scores.

Black students earned a national average composite score of 17 and Hispanic students 18.7. Asian American students again earned the highest average at 22.6 followed by Whites at 22.1 and American Indian/Alaska Native students at 18.9.

ACT officials are optimistic about closing the gap between Black and Hispanic students and their higher-scoring peers. Recent scores of those who took EXPLORE and PLAN, precursor exams to the ACT designed to help 8th- and 10th-grade students prepare for the ACT, “point to likely improvement in college readiness among racial/ethnic minority students in the future.”

Higher percentages of Black and American Indian 8th-graders who took 2007 EXPLORE are on pace to becoming college ready in all four subject areas than were in 2003. Similarly, more Hispanic 10th-grade students this year than in 2003 posted scores indicating they were well on their way to becoming college-ready.

“These upward trends show more students are graduating from high school with the academic skills they need to succeed in college and workforce training programs,” said Richard L. Ferguson, ACT’s chief executive officer and chairman of the board. “We still have a long way to go in ensuring that all high school graduates are prepared for the next level, but the progress we’re seeing is very encouraging. Changes in academic achievement generally take time to develop.”

According to the report, both math and science scores were up this year — the two areas that students are least prepared for when entering college. The percentage of those who met or surpassed the college-readiness benchmark in the math portion of the ACT was up from 40 percent in 2004 to 43 percent this year. Additionally, there was an increase in the percentage of students surpassing the benchmark in 2007 in science — from 26 percent in 2005 to 28 percent this year. Student averages that met or surpassed all four areas increased from 21 to 23 percent compared to last year.

Despite the increases, the results still suggest that the basic courses offered in high school are not adequately preparing students for college-level coursework, particularly in math and science, ACT officials say.

– Kermille Brown

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