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ACT scores show readiness gaps

In both Colorado and the nation, only 25 percent of students who graduated from high school in 2012 met college readiness benchmarks in all four subject areas tested by the ACT.

That means “Success in college and career is at risk for at least 60 percent of likely college-bound 2012 U.S. high school graduates,” according to ACT officials.

A third of Colorado students who took the test didn’t meet any of the readiness benchmarks, compared to 28 percent nationwide.

The annual report and analysis, released by ACT on Wednesday, show fairly static results over the last five years. The report examines the ACT scores of students who graduated from high school last spring.

“Far too many high school graduates are still falling short academically,” said Jon Whitmore, CEO of the Iowa-based testing company. “We need to do more to ensure that our young people improve. The advanced global economy requires American students to perform at their highest level to compete in the future job market and maintain the long-term economic security of the U.S.”

Here are the percentages of students who met college readiness benchmarks by subject:

  • English: Colorado – 62 percent, U.S. – 67 percent
  • Math: Colorado – 41 percent, U.S. – 46 percent
  • Reading: Colorado – 47 percent, U.S. – 52 percent
  • Science: Colorado and U.S. – both 31 percent

Here are some other key findings from ACT’s analysis:

  • Composite scores: Colorado’s was 20.6, compared to 21.1 nationwide. The national figure is basically unchanged over the last five years. Composite scores are the combination of scores in all four test areas. A perfect composite score is 36.
  • English average scores: Colorado – 19.9, U.S. – 20.5
  • Math average scores: Colorado – 20.5, U.S. – 21.1
  • Reading average scores: Colorado – 20.7, U.S. – 21.3
  • Science average scores: Colorado – 20.8, U.S. – 20.9

The report also found significant gaps between ethnic groups. Nationally, for example, “In three of the four subject areas, benchmarks were met by at least 50 percent of Asian and white students, while one was met by at least 50 percent of Pacific Islander students. None of the benchmarks were met by at least 50 percent of African American, American Indian or Hispanic students,” according to the report.In Colorado, the state requires all high school juniors to take the ACT test in the spring. The scores are factored into the state rating system for district and school accountability. Many states don’t require all juniors take the test, and many students take the test in the fall of their senior years as part of the college application process.

Eight other states also administer the ACT to all students once in high school. The average composite scores for those states and Colorado are under the national average of 21.1. Composite scores in those states range from a low of 18.7 in Mississippi to highs of 20.9 in Illinois and 20.7 in North Dakota, compared to Colorado’s 20.6. The composite in neighboring Wyoming was 20.3.

Nationwide, 52 percent of 2012 graduates took the ACT, up from 43 percent in 2008. The test is most popular in the Midwest, mountain states and the South. Fewer than 40 percent of students on the West Coast and in the Northeast take the test.

An annual report of scores on the SAT, the other major college-entrance test, usually is issued in September.

How readiness is calculated

The ACT’s college readiness benchmarks are the minimum scores on subject tests that indicate a 50 percent chance of earning a B grade or higher on a first-year college course that carries credit, or a 75 percent chance of earning a C grade.

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