Last year, 24 percent of students met the benchmarks for English, reading, mathematics, and science. In 2011, more than 1.62 million graduates—49 percent of all American high school graduates—took the exam, more than any other year. According to the report, 28 percent of students who took the exam didn't meet "college readiness" benchmarks in any subject. Another 15 percent of students met three benchmarks.
[Read seven tips for improving SAT and ACT scores.]
Students are considered to be "college ready" in a subject if—according to their ACT score—they have a 50 percent chance of earning a B or higher or a 75 percent chance of earning a C or higher in a first-year college course. The English benchmark is set at 18, reading at 21, mathematics at 22, and science at 24 on a 36-point scale. The percentage chance of earning a certain grade is calculated by comparing past students' college grades with their ACT scores.
Although students' scores on the exam slightly improved, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said there is still work to be done. "These ACT results are another sign that states need to raise their academic standards and commit to education reforms that accelerate student achievement," he said in a statement.
Meanwhile, Jon Erickson, interim president of ACT's education division, said in the statement that "things appear to be moving in the right direction."
[Read six reasons why the ACT may fit you better.]
In 2011, 45 percent of test takers scored at least a 22 on the math test, compared with 43 percent last year. That 2 percent increase was the largest of any subject; 30 percent of students met the benchmark in science, compared with 29 percent last year. Two thirds of students met the benchmark in English, and 52 percent of students met the benchmark in reading, both unchanged from 2010.
The ACT is the second most popular college entrance exam after the SAT. Most, if not all, colleges in the United States accept ACT and SAT scores interchangeably.