National Average ACT Score Rises Again as College Readiness Continues to Improve Among U.S. High School Grads

  • Average national ACT composite score is 21.2, up from 21.1 in 2006
  • Third score increase in past five years
  • More grads meeting ACT College Readiness Benchmarks
  • Rigor of high school core coursework still in need of improvement
  • Promising growth in readiness among 8th & 10th graders
  • Record number of test-takers

    IOWA CITY, IOWA, August 15—The national average ACT composite score rose in 2007 for the third time in the past five years. The percentage of U.S. high school graduates who are ready for college-level coursework continued to grow as well.

    Members of the high school graduating class of 2007 who took the ACT—a record 1.3 million students—earned an average composite score of 21.2 on the college admission and placement exam, up from 20.8 in 2003 and from 21.1 last year. Scores improved on all four required subject-area tests included in the exam—English, mathematics, reading and science. Each test is scored on a scale of 1 to 36, with the composite score being the average of the four individual required test scores.

    The results also suggest a growing number of U.S. high school graduates are prepared for college-level coursework. The percentage of ACT-tested graduates who met or surpassed ACT's College Readiness Benchmarks, indicating they are ready to succeed in specific first-year credit-bearing college courses, has improved over the past five years in all four subject areas.

    Steady growth in college readiness is evident in both math and science, the two subject areas in which students have typically been least prepared for college. The percentage of test-takers who met or surpassed the College Readiness Benchmark on the ACT Math Test was up for the third consecutive year, increasing from 40 percent in 2004 to 43 percent in 2007, while the percentage who met or surpassed the benchmark on the ACT Science Test was up for the second year in a row, increasing from 26 percent in 2005 to 28 percent in 2007. In addition, the proportion of students who met or surpassed the College Readiness Benchmarks in all four subject areas increased by 2 percentage points compared to last year, from 21 to 23 percent.

    "These upward trends show more students are graduating from high school with the academic skills they need to succeed in college and workforce training programs," said Richard L. Ferguson, ACT's chief executive officer and chairman of the board. "We still have a long way to go in ensuring that all high school graduates are prepared for the next level, but the progress we're seeing is very encouraging. Changes in academic achievement generally take time to develop."

    Scores have trended upward for nearly all racial/ethnic groups since 2003. All groups with the exception of African American graduates posted an increase on their ACT composite score this year compared to last, with Asian American students showing a sizable gain of 0.3 point. Scores for African American students this year are 0.1 point higher than in 2003, but have fluctuated slightly in the intervening years, dropping 0.1 point this year compared to last.

Core Course Rigor Called into Question

    Despite the increases in college readiness indicated by this year's score report, the ACT results suggest that core courses offered in U.S. high schools, by and large, still need more rigor to adequately prepare students for success in college coursework, particularly in math and science. The results indicate students must typically take additional courses beyond the recommended core curriculum in order to be college ready.

    "Too often, core courses in our high schools fail to teach students the essential knowledge and skills they need to succeed in first-year college courses such as college algebra and college biology," said Ferguson.

    ACT has long recommended that students take a minimum core curriculum of four years of English and three years each of math (Algebra 1 and higher), social studies and science to prepare for college.

    Among 2007 ACT-tested graduates who took Algebra 1 and 2 and geometry—the minimum core coursework in math—a meager 15 percent met or surpassed the College Readiness Benchmark on the ACT Mathematics Test, indicating that they are ready to take a college algebra course. By comparison, 40 percent of those who took trigonometry in addition to the core courses met or surpassed the benchmark.

    Similarly, only 20 percent of the graduates who took general science, biology, and chemistry—the minimum core coursework in science—met or surpassed the College Readiness Benchmark on the ACT Science Test, indicating that they are ready to take a college biology course, while 40 percent of those who took physics rather than general science met or surpassed the benchmark.

    "Although it's always a good idea to take additional courses beyond the core in high school, taking the basic core curriculum should enable most students to be ready for their first year of college," said Ferguson. "We must take the steps necessary to ensure that the core courses offered in our high schools are rigorous and provide students with the essential skills they need to succeed in college-credit courses after they graduate."

Statewide Use of ACT Increases

    More and more states are taking steps to help their high school graduates become college ready by requiring all students to take the ACT as part of their statewide academic assessment programs. Colorado and Illinois have been administering the ACT to all public school 11th-grade students since 2001. Both states have seen significant improvement in the percentage of their graduates who meet ACT's College Readiness Benchmarks since 2002.

   In addition, Michigan began administering the ACT to all 11th graders this past spring, and both Kentucky and Wyoming will join the ranks next year. Wyoming will offer students the choice of taking either the ACT or ACT's WorkKeys exams, which measure workforce skills. A number of other states are in various stages of discussion in the statewide adoption process.

Racial/Ethnic Groups

    Participation in the ACT has been rapidly increasing among African American and Hispanic graduates over the past five years, far outpacing overall growth. Since 2003, the number of African American test-takers has increased by 18 percentage points, while the number of Hispanic test-takers has increased by 23 percentage points. The overall number of ACT-tested graduates has increased by 11 percentage points during this same span.

    Asian American students again earned the highest average composite score at 22.6, followed by Caucasian students at 22.1, American Indian/Alaska Native students at 18.9, Hispanic students at 18.7 and African American students at 17.0.

    Results from ACT's EXPLORE and PLAN assessments, which are precursor exams to the ACT designed to help 8th- and 10th-grade students prepare for the future, point to likely improvement in college readiness among racial/ethnic minority students in the future.

    EXPLORE results for 2007 indicate that increased percentages of both African American and American Indian/Alaska Native 8th graders are on target to becoming college ready in all four subject areas than were in 2003. Similarly, PLAN 2007 results show a greater percentage of Hispanic 10th-grade students are on track to becoming college ready in all four areas than were in 2003.

Gender

    Males in the class of 2007 earned an average composite score of 21.2 on the ACT, while females earned an average score of 21.0, both unchanged from last year (6 percent of students chose not to record their gender). Males continued to earn higher average scores than females on ACT's math and science tests, while females again earned higher average scores than males on the English and reading tests.

Uses of ACT Scores

    The overwhelming majority (90 percent) of all four-year colleges and universities in the U.S. report using ACT scores in their admission decision-making process. This percentage has not changed significantly over the past 30 years. According to the 2005 Admission Trends Survey by the National Association for College Admission Counseling, test scores are the second-most important factor used in undergraduate admission decisions, following high school grades.

    The majority of all four-year U.S. colleges and universities also use ACT scores for placement purposes. More than 60 percent of those institutions use ACT scores to help place students into first-year courses that match their academic skill levels. Placing students in the right courses is one important factor in helping them stay in college and persist to graduation.

ACT Writing Scores

    ACT also offers an optional Writing Test, which was introduced in February 2005. Students who opt to take the Writing Test are asked to write an essay response to a given prompt. Scores on the Writing Test, which range from 2 to 12, are reported separately and are not included in the ACT composite score.

    The average score on the ACT Writing Test dropped slightly from 7.7 last year, the first year in which writing scores were reported, to 7.6 in 2007. The exam was taken by 41 percent of all test-takers in the class of 2007, a slight increase from 36 percent last year.

About the ACT

    The ACT is a curriculum-based achievement exam designed to measure the academic skills that are taught in schools and deemed important for success in first-year college courses. The average national scores for each required subject test included in the ACT in 2007 were: English – 20.7, Math – 21.0, Reading – 21.5, and Science – 21.0.

    The ACT is scored on a scale of 1 to 36, with 36 being the highest possible score. ACT scores are accepted at all major colleges and universities across the nation. The test is administered in all 50 states and is taken by the majority of graduates in 26 states.