RALEIGH -- The latest ACT college entrance exam figures for North Carolina showed a drop, but state officials say that was expected becuase more students took the test North Carolina is one of only nine states in the nation that tests 100 percent of its students.
The ACT was selected as the state's new college readiness measure for high schools because it measures science as well as mathematics, reading and English. The ACT is a curriculum-based achievement test consisting of four separate exams in English, reading, mathematics and science as well as an optional writing assessment. The ACT is scored on a scale of 1 to 36 with 36 being the highest possible composite score.
North Carolina's average ACT score fell in 2013. In past years when approximately 20 percent of North Carolina students selected to take the ACT, the state's average score was higher than the national average. With a 100 percent participation rate, the state's average composite score fell from 21.9 points (Class of 2012) to 18.7 points (Class of 2013). The national average composite score also fell from 21.1 in 2012 to 20.9 in 2013.
Other states that have moved to a requirement that all of their students take the ACT experienced a drop similar to North Carolina's but found their performance moving up in subsequent years. For example, in its first year of statewide administration (2007-08), Kentucky's average score was 18.3, but it has steadily increased to 19.6 in 2013.
"The State Board of Education made a bold decision to measure college readiness for all students," said State Superintendent June Atkinson. "When we began this process, we knew that our first scores would be lower, but it is important to get a true picture of where we are in order to improve. We know we have our work cut out for us in terms of raising student expectations and preparing 100 percent of our students for community college- or university-level work."
In the past when college admission tests were optional for high school students, approximately one-third of North Carolina high school students did not take a college admission exam. For these students, in particular, the ACT is a new expectation.
ACT Inc. notes that one of the key actions that states can take to improve student performance is to move to stronger standards. ACT points out that the Common Core State Standards in mathematics and English language arts are an important first step to improving rigor and instruction, a step that North Carolina took in the 2012-13 school year when it implemented the new Common Core State Standards for the first time in grades K-12. ACT materials also reflect that students who choose to take courses that include four years of English and three years each of mathematics, social studies and science are more likely to score well on the ACT tests. Students taking the ACT as juniors still have their senior year to strengthen their preparation for college-level work.