ACT Scores Are Level

Average for 2005 is the same as for 2004; Asian and white students show slight gains, black and Latino students show slight declines.
August 17, 2005

The average composite score on the ACT was the same this year and last year (20.9 out of a possible 36) for students graduating from high school.

While the numbers as a whole stayed the same, there were variations among various demographic groups and increases in the number of people taking the ACT from various minority groups and from some states outside of the Midwestern home region of the test.

According to data that the ACT is releasing today, men slightly outperformed women on the test, with average scores of 21.1 to 20.9. The average for women stayed flat while the male average was up by 0.1. But women far outnumber men among test takers. About 56 percent of those taking the test are female.

While the scores of men and women are not far apart, the statistics released by the ACT point to other demographic and educational differences that correlate to test scores. On family income, for example, students from families of incomes of less than $18,000 have an average composite score of 17.9, while those from families with incomes over $100,000 have a composite average of 23.5.

The data also show significant differentials by racial and ethnic group, and a boost for members of all racial and ethnic groups who took the recommended core courses in high school to prepare for college:

Average ACT Score by Racial/Ethnic Group, 2005

Racial/ethnic group All Students Students Who Completed Core Courses Students Who Did Not Complete Core Courses
White 21.9 22.8 20.4
Black 17.0 17.7 16.1
Mexican-American/Chicano 18.4 19.2 17.3
Puerto Rican/Hispanic 18.9 19.9 17.5
Asian 22.1 22.7 20.8
Native American 18.7 20.1 17.4

Gaps among racial groups grew slightly in the last year. The two groups with the highest averages, Asians and whites, saw their scores increase by 0.2 and 0.1, respectively. Scores for Hispanic, black and Native American students all fell by 0.1.

Despite those declines, ACT officials were encouraged by figures suggesting that more minority students may be preparing for higher education. While the number of white students taking the ACT has increased by only 2 percent since 2001, the number of black test takers is up 23 percent, and the number of Hispanic test takers is up 40 percent. In total, minority students now make up 27 percent of those taking the ACT, up from 24 percent in 2001.

The ACT and the SAT are the two primary standardized tests used in college admissions. SAT averages will be released later this month.

Historically, the ACT has been most likely to be taken in the Midwest, while the SAT has been the standard test in the Northeast, the West, and for elite private colleges. In recent years, however, regional differences have been lessening as just about all colleges will accept either test, and more students are taking both exams. Many guidance counselors believe that certain kinds of students -- such as those who do well in their classes but don't "test well" -- tend to do better on the ACT.

This year's data show a continuation of these trends, with the ACT showing significant growth in New England, where a decade ago it was just a blip.

In Massachusetts, 12 percent of high school graduates this year took the ACT, and except for Rhode Island (where the figure is 8 percent), all states in New England had at least 10 percent of high school graduates taking the ACT. In the last year, the four states with the largest percentage increase in ACT usage were all in New England: Vermont (up 30 percent), Rhode Island (up 28 percent), Connecticut (up 20 percent), and New Hampshire (up 18 percent).


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