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Just 26 percent of ACT test-takers in U.S. are prepared for college

Just more than a quarter of students who took the ACT college entrance exam this year scored high enough in math, reading, English and science to be considered ready for college or a career, according to test data released yesterday.

That figure masks large gaps between student groups – with 43 percent of Asians, but only 5 percent of African Americans – demonstrating college readiness in all four subjects.

The ACT is a competitor of the SAT and is now the most popular college entrance exam in the country, with about 54 percent of the nation’s graduating seniors taking the test this year.

Overall performance on the ACT has remained virtually unchanged since 2009, with the average score falling slightly this year, from 21.1 to 20.9 out of a possible 36 points. The stagnation raises questions about how well schools are preparing students for future success.

“This report demonstrates that we must be honest about our students’ performance and implement higher standards if we’re serious about improving educational outcomes,” Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in a statement.

The increasing number and diversity of test-takers might be one reason for the slight decline in scores this year, as it is not uncommon for average performance to fall as the pool of test-takers grows.

Two-thirds of test-takers met the college-ready standard for English. In math and reading, 44 percent did so. Science performance was worst at 36 percent. Only 26 percent of students reached the college-ready benchmark in all four subjects.

In New Hampshire, 43 percent of students met the benchmark. Only 19 percent of the state’s seniors took the exam.

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