Kentucky juniors improve slightly on ACT, but most still aren't college-ready

Math, science remain 'problematic'

jwarren@herald-leader.comAugust 18, 2011 

NICHOLASVILLE — Scores on the ACT test taken by juniors in Kentucky's public high schools in the spring improved slightly over last year in most subject areas, according to results released Wednesday by the state Department of Education.

The composite score for Kentucky juniors this year was 18.8, up from 18.5 in 2010.

Average scores in English rose from 17.8 last year to 18 this year. Math went up from 18.3 to 18.5; reading from 18.9 to 19, and science from 18.7 to 19.

Students who achieve so-called "benchmark" scores or higher on the ACT are considered ready for college-level courses. Those benchmark scores are 18 in English, 22 in math, 21 in reading and 24 in science.

According to ACT officials, students who reach benchmark scores have a 50 percent chance of getting a grade of B or higher, or a 75 percent chance of getting a C or higher, in corresponding first-year college credit courses.

Test data released Wednesday show that the percentages of Kentucky juniors ready for college work have increased fairly steadily since Kentucky started requiring juniors to take the ACT in 2008.

For example, 46 percent of Kentucky juniors were college-ready in English composition in 2008. The figure climbed to 49 percent last year, and it reached 50 percent this year.

Some 24 percent of 2011 juniors are college-ready in algebra, up from 22 percent last year. In social science, 35 percent are ready, the same percentage as last year.

Kentucky education officials said, however, that the latest ACT results show that just 16 percent of juniors in public high schools in 2011 were ready for college biology. Worse, only 11 percent were college-ready in all four target subjects.

Results are only a little better for seniors who graduated from Kentucky's public and private high schools this spring. According to the ACT's overall 2011 results, only 21 percent of Kentucky seniors were college-ready in science, while 28 percent were ready in math.

State education department spokeswoman Lisa Gross said Wednesday that while ACT scores are improving, results in math and science remain "problematic" in Kentucky.

Gross said Kentucky public schools will use juniors' 2011 ACT test results to tailor their class work this school year to help them get higher scores when they take the ACT again as seniors in the spring. Kentucky is one of a few states that require all juniors and seniors to take the ACT.

The percentage of Kentucky students meeting ACT benchmarks dipped sharply in 2009. But state officials say that happened because juniors were added into the testing mix.

Juniors' ACT scores tend to be lower than those of seniors because the juniors have some courses yet to take, and they might not be as motivated as seniors to work for high ACT scores, officials say.

Kentucky's overall ACT scores have been climbing fairly steadily since the 2009 downturn.

The state Department of Education released 2011 ACT results for Kentucky public school juniors Wednesday in conjunction with the ACT testing organization's rollout of national ACT scores for the entire public and private high school graduating class of 2011. ACT unveiled the data at the Jessamine Career and Technology Center in Nicholasville.

Reach Jim Warren at (859) 231-3255 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3255.

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