A.C.T. Results Show Growth in Academic Curricula

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For the first time, more than half of the college-bound seniors taking the American College Testing Program test had taken a "core" academic curriculum, officials of the A.C.T. reported last week.

In addition, the number of minority-group members taking the college admission test increased and their performance remained stable or improved, officials noted in releasing the annual report on the program.

Over all, average scores on the test remained stable for the fifth straight year. The average composite score was 20.6 out of a possible 36, the same level as last year.

The stability on the A.C.T. stands in contrast to a steady decline in performance on the other major college-admission test, the Scholastic Aptitude Test. Releasing the S.A.T. results last month, officials from the College Board warned that the declines represent a "disturbing" educational problem. (See Education Week, Sept. 4, 1991.)

A.C.T. officials could not explain the apparent discrepancy in the two results, but noted that the improved academic background of the A.C.T. test takers, particularly among minorities, could help explain that program's scores. Those who had taken a core curriculum outperformed those who had not.

"The increasing populations of minority students taking the A.C.T. and the stability of their scores as their numbers increase are welcome trends," said Richard L. Ferguson, president of the Iowa City-based firm. "And part of the explanation for the patterns of score stability may well lie in the fact that increasing numbers of A.C.T.-tested minority students are completing a strong program of core coursework in high school."

Minority Participation Up

The report released last week was based on the performance of 796,983 students who graduated from high school in the spring of 1991 and had taken the test in the junior or senior year.

The A.c.T., which includes sections on English, mathematics, reading, and science reasoning, is taken primarily by students in the Midwest and the South, and is used for admission by many large state-supported colleges and universities. In 1989, the test was revised to place greater emphasis on reasoning and problem-solving skills.

The overall number of test takers in 1991 represents only a slight increase, 2.5 percent, over the past five years.

Participation by members of minority groups, however, has increased substantially during the same period. Between 1987 and 1991, the report indicates, the number of black students taking the test increased by 18 percent, while the numbers of Mexican-Americans and Chicanos rose by 37 percent, of Puerto Ricans, Cubans, and other Hispanics by 47 percent, and of Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders by 50 percent.

Moreover, it notes, the performance of minority students increased slightly or remained stable over that period. But with the exception of Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders, the average score for each minority group was lower than that of Caucasian students.

'Core Curriculum'

The 1991 report also provides evidence that the academic preparation of the A.C.T.-taking population has reached a record high. Some 51 percent of the tested seniors said they had taken a core curriculum-consisting of four years of English and three each of science, math, and social studies compared with 38 percent in 1987.

More than half--54 percent--of the Puerto Rican, Cuban, and other Hispanic seniors had taken a core curriculum, the report says, as had 45 percent of the black students. In 1987, 44 percent of Hispanics and 31 percent of blacks had taken a core curriculum.

As in past years, officials said, the test results showed that those who had taken a core academic curriculum substantially outperformed those who had less academic preparation in high school. Among all graduates, those who had taken the core earned an average composite score of 22.1, compared with a 19.1 score for those who had taken fewer academic courses.

The relationship between course-taking and performance persisted even when family income was taken into account. Although test takers from families with higher incomes generally outperformed other students, lower-income students who had taken a core curriculum performed at the same level as their wealthier peers who had not, according to the report.

U.S. Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander said in a statement that the A.C.T. results Suggest that "all students benefit by taking core subjects."

"Students don't know what they don't study," he said.

Vol. 11, Issue 04, Page 4

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