Scores Drop Slightly on ACT

More high school students are taking the test, which is a graduation requirement in some states.

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The slight decline in this year's average ACT scores wasn't much of a surprise to the creators of the college admissions test. That's because a record 1.42 million students—or 43 percent of all 2008 graduates—took the test, a 9 percentage point increase from last year. The pool of test takers included students from three states-Colorado, Illinois, and Michigan—that make the ACT mandatory for all graduating students, including those who are not collegebound. Out of a possible 36, the average score on this year's ACT test was 21.1, down slightly from 21.2 last year. Separately, 22 percent of test takers met the testing agency's college readiness benchmarks in English, reading, science, and math—the four subject areas covered in the test. That's down from 23 percent in 2007, but 1 percentage point higher from the previous three years. "While we saw a drop in scores this year, we're happy to say that college readiness levels remain [relatively] the same," Cyndie Schmeiser, president of the ACT education division, said this week in announcing the results.

For the testing agency, the bigger concern was the notable percentage of high school students who said they had taken college-prep classes but who still fell short of meeting college readiness benchmarks. For example, among the students who reported taking Algebra I and II as well as geometry, only 14 percent met the targets indicating they were ready for college. "We have a lot of work to do," Schmeiser said, adding that these students may have taken high school college-prep classes that are not rigorous enough.

The results of the ACT come a week after a panel of admissions experts who convened at the University of Southern California renewed calls for moving beyond standardized testing. They said colleges and universities should adopt a more comprehensive system of admitting students that includes better predictors of college success. Officials with the ACT didn't address these concerns during a telephone conference with reporters. But they made a point of emphasizing that unlike the SAT, which is more focused on aptitude skills, the ACT is tied to the material that students were taught in school. Scores for the SAT are expected to be released later this year.

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