Raleigh, N.C. — Less than a fifth of North Carolina high school graduates who took the ACT test in 2013 have the reading, math, English and science skills needed to succeed in college or a career, according to data released Wednesday by the national testing company.
Graduating seniors in the state performed worse than the national average in all four subjects on the standardized college admission test, with just 17 percent of those tested meeting benchmarks in all four, and the state’s numbers were significantly worse than a year ago.
North Carolina was also last in the nation in its composite score, averaging 18.7 on a scale of 1 to 36 points. The national average composite score in 2013 was 20.9, compared with 21.1 in 2012.
While North Carolina’s performance on the test declined in the past year, the number of students tested in the state significantly increased – from 19,000 students a year ago to 95,000 students this year.
North Carolina is one of only nine states that tested 100 percent of its students in 2013.
The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction issued a statement Wednesday morning pointing to the major rise in participation as the main reason for the drop in scores.
"The state Board of Education made a bold decision to measure college readiness for all students," state Superintendent June Atkinson said in a statement. "When we began this process, we knew that our first scores would be lower, but it is important to get a true picture of where we are in order to improve. We know we have our work cut out for us in terms of raising student expectations and preparing 100 percent of our students for community college- or university-level work."
About 30 percent of North Carolina’s graduating seniors who took the test in 2012 met college readiness benchmarks. Nationally, about a quarter of students tested in 2013 met those same benchmarks.
The results, part of ACT's annual report, indicate thousands of students nationally graduate from high schools without the knowledge necessary for the next steps in life. The data also show a downturn in overall student scores, although company officials attribute the slide to updated standards and more students taking the exams — including those with no intention of attending two- or four-year colleges.
When broken down by race, the results in North Carolina indicate stark differences in performance.
Only 7 percent of African-American students met three or more benchmarks for college readiness, down from 13 percent a year ago. Among Hispanic students, just 11 percent are ready in three or more subjects, down from 26 percent in 2012. White students also struggled to maintain previous levels of preparedness, falling from 60 percent in 2012 to 37 percent this year.
About 43 percent of North Carolina students tested in 2013 met readiness benchmarks in English, by far the state’s best subject. Science proved to be the toughest subject, with just 25 percent of students hitting benchmark goals.
Under ACT's definition, a young adult is ready to start college or trade school if he or she has the knowledge to succeed without taking remedial courses.
Success is defined as the student's having a 75 percent chance of earning a C grade and a 50 percent chance of earning a B, based on results on each of the four ACT subject areas.