ACT Scores Show A Slight Increase

By Catherine A. Carroll — October 05, 2004 2 min read

Despite an uptick in the average score on the ACT college-admission test, most high school seniors are still unprepared for college-level classes, sponsors of the test say.

The national average score on the ACT for 2004 rose one-tenth of a point, to 20.9, out of a possible 36 points. After a drop two years ago attributed to a sharp increase in the number of students taking the test, and with scores holding steady since, any increase is important, said Cynthia B. Schmeiser, the senior vice president of research and development for the Iowa City, Iowa-based ACT.

“Every increase is statistically significant,” she said. “Whether it will amount to a practical significance, we should wait [a few years] to see that.”

However, the number of graduating students who are unprepared for college courses is disconcerting, said Richard L. Ferguson, the ACT’s chief executive officer.

Out of nearly 1.2 million students who took the exam, only 40 percent demonstrated an understanding of math that would get them through a college algebra class, he said. On the science test, just 26 percent of test-takers showed a readiness for college-level biology, indicating that even though students plan on going to college, they are not taking the preparatory courses they need.

Further research by the ACT shows that students who took core curriculum classes—three years each of social sciences, natural sciences, and mathematics, and four years of English—scored an average of 21.9, while those that did not take the core classes earned a score of 19.4.

Even more disturbing, officials said, is the lack of readiness shown by 8th and 10th graders who took the ACT’s “Explore” and “Plan” assessments. The Plan test for 10th graders showed that the proportions of students likely to be ready for college coursework by high school graduation were 24 percent in science and 36 percent in math. The Explore test, given to 8th graders, showed that only 12 percent would be prepared for college-level biology by high school graduation, and that 34 percent would be ready for college-level algebra.

Need for Communication

Ms. Schmeiser said educators can help students head in the right direction."I think it’s important for there to be better communication with students to reinforce that it is not only the number of courses they need to take in high school, but the kind of courses they are taking” that will prepare them for college, she said.

Besides the one-tenth-point increase on the ACT overall, most minority groups posted a gain this year. African-American test-takers gained two-tenths of point, to a 17.1 average, while Native Americans, Asian-Americans, and white students’ average scores increased one-tenth of a point.

The average score for Hispanic students remained the same as last year at 18.5. ACT officials attribute the steady score to a 4 percent increase in the number of Hispanic students taking the test this year, making the test-taking group likely more academically diverse than in past years.

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A version of this article appeared in the September 01, 2004 edition of Education Week as ACT Scores Show A Slight Increase