August 21, 2013 9:56:47 AM
JACKSON -- Mississippi's ACT scores rose slightly over the last year, although only a small fraction of Magnolia State students are truly ready for college by the standards of the test.
The average composite score on the test was 18.9, up modestly from 18.7 last year. That's still well below the national average, which dipped to 20.9 this year from 21.1 the year before. And it's only equal to the 18.9 that Mississippi students scored in 2008 and 2009 before dipping.
The testing organization, based in Iowa City, Iowa, says that only 12 percent of the nearly 28,000 Mississippi students who took the exam were ready for college in English, math, reading and science. That compares to 26 percent nationwide. Mississippi's share of college-ready students has risen from 10 percent in 2011.
"While we had hoped that Mississippi's ACT scores would have shown greater improvement, we are looking forward to providing every opportunity to better prepare our students for college and career over the next several years," interim superintendent Lynn House said in a statement.
Mississippi's scores have only improved a little even though the share of students taking the courses suggested as a college path by ACT has increased. That may suggest that students aren't getting enough out of current courses. For example, more than one-third of Mississippi test-takers have studied physics, but only a quarter of that group meets ACT's science benchmark of 23.
Mississippi's composite score, for the first time in recent memory, didn't rate last. That dubious distinction instead went to North Carolina, where the average score fell to 18.7.
ACT spokesman Ed Colby said that's because North Carolina started administering the test to all its high school students for the first time. Colby said that because different shares of students take the test in different states, it's hard to rank scores by state. Typically, average scores get lower as more students take the test.
That move, and possibly a resultant score drop, could also be on the way to Mississippi. State Department of Education officials are moving toward giving the ACT at least once to every public school junior. If state lawmakers appropriate the $1.6 million required for the move, the college test is also likely to become part of the new school and district grading system that Mississippi is designing. Under the current proposal, the share of students passing minimum ACT benchmarks in math, reading and English would be one of 11 components that the state uses to grade high schools, as a measure of college readiness.
While ACT estimates that 95 percent of Mississippi high schoolers currently take the test at least once, the state officials say they believe that estimate is inaccurate. A few districts do currently pay for all students to take the test, which costs at least $36.50 when students pay for it individually
"The school districts that are now paying for the students to take the tests are in a great minority," Deputy State Superintendent Mike Kent told state Board of Education leaders last week.
Senate Education Chairman Gray Tollison, R-Oxford, said he supports paying for the test.
"To my mind, that would be an important component in deciding school grades, so hopefully we can convince the leadership to pay for it," he said.
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