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State's ACT news is good

More Kentucky high school seniors are taking the ACT exam and their average score has consistently increased over the last five years, even as scores dipped slightly nationally this year, according to data released Wednesday.

Kentucky students posted an average composite score of 20.9 out of a possible 36 on the college entrance exam. The average Kentucky score is up from 20.7 last year and 20.3 five years ago.

This year, 31,728 Kentucky students took the test, a jump of nearly 800 students from last year.

”That kind of gradual incremental growth is what you want to see, particularly when we have more students in the state taking the exam; that's progress,“ said Ed Colby, an ACT Inc. spokesman. ”What we're seeing is increased learning among Kentucky's graduates across the state over the past several years.“

Nationally, the average composite score was 21.1 this year, down slightly from 21.2 a year ago. The number of students taking the exam jumped by 9 percent compared with last year.

This year's results reveal that more than three in four test-takers nationally are likely to need remedial help in at least one subject to succeed in college.

The ACT, an Iowa City, Iowa-based non-profit, says a major part of the shortfall in college readiness is that students are failing to complete a core curriculum of college-prep courses. Students who take a recommended core sequence — four years of English and three each of math, science and social studies — are significantly more likely to meet benchmarks.

But ACT also maintains the core courses need more rigor. Among 2008 graduates who took the minimum core curriculum in math — algebra I and II plus geometry — just 14 percent met the math benchmark.

In Kentucky, the results include all Kentucky seniors — public, private and home-schooled students ­— who took the test and are heading to college. Next month, the results of all public school juniors who took the ACT last spring will be released. Those ACT results will factor into the the state's accountability testing system.

Lisa Gross, spokeswoman for the Kentucky Department of Education, said the latest results are encouraging. ”More and more students ... are taking the ACT,“ she said. ”That tends to drive down overall scores, but that's not evident in Kentucky's progress.“

Still, a gap remains between the performance of black and white students in Kentucky.

Black students had an average score of 17.3 this year, up from 17.0 last year. In contrast, white students had an average ACT score of 21.2 this year, up from 21.0 last year.

”There's definitely bad trends for African-Americans in this,“ said Dick Innes, education analyst with the Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions.

Fayette Superintendent Stu Silberman was happy to boast about Fayette County's average composite score of 22.3. The district had averaged a 22 the past two years. The number of students taking the test in Fayette County dropped by 22 from 2007 to 1,441.

Bryan Station High had the lowest average composite score with an 18.5, a drop from 18.9 last year. Paul Laurence Dunbar High had the highest score with a 23.5.

”As far as we know, as a district (the latest ACT scores) are the highest in our history,“ Silberman said. ”I think it continues to show us that our high schools offer tremendous opportunities for our kids, and our challenge is to bring all of our kids to the level where they can take advantage of that.“