ACT: Majority of NC students not meeting college readiness benchmarks

Posted August 21, 2013
Updated August 22, 2013

— 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. High School Classroom NC's ACT scores fall in 2013

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.


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  • Princess1 Aug 22, 2013

    Let me preface my remarks by saying that I am a teacher. Although I am not happy about not receiving a well deserved pay raise, you can give each teacher a 1 million dollar raise per year and it will not increase these test scores. Not because they are not good teachers but the state has dummied down the curriculum to address the students who are low performers so they can graduate. The student's who are interested in going to college are getting hurt by this. Teacher's must teach to the lower performing students, many of whom engage in disruptive behaviors daily. Often you are given students who are so significantly below grade level and may make growth but not enough to pass the test and are then told you are not effective based on these scores. Remember, there are many special needs students in these classrooms who are tested on the same tests the academically gifted students are tested on and have to meet the same criteria to pass. Something else to think about.

  • superman Aug 22, 2013

    You cant teach students who have no interest in learning. A good student usally comes from a good home where education is important. If they ever attend college they will realize that learning sometimes takes place in spite of a bad teacher. Sometimes you have to learn on your own. I remember my Dad telling me "Son the best place to find a helping hand is at the end of your elbow." There is no help for people who cant or wont help themselves.

  • superman Aug 22, 2013

    What we really really need is a public school system that ends at the 6th grade. Parents who want their children to receive more education should build the schools and provide the teachers like they did many years ago. It is not the "general public's" responsbility to educate your children. People who have children have that mentality that the people who dont have children need to pay. Welfare education and public welfare go hand and hand. People expect others to support them.

  • RDcallsit Aug 22, 2013

    I'm sorry, I should have said that WRAL "Can't" post because the truth is almost to vulgar to read anymore.

  • RDcallsit Aug 22, 2013

    for all of us here wanting so badly to speak the truth, we can't because then WRAL won't post... we've arrived at this intersection in the USA where we are so totally devided and split on every possible issue there is. we meaning all of us, cannot and will not survive as a country. this education issue in NC alone is so hotly challenged and misrepresented and just pure lied about to the point "WE" don't know the real truth because "WE" can't get the truth from anyone. it's so bad. we're bad. we've already fallen apart but we now beginning to experience the results oh so long been-a coming. what a mess and I surely don't have an answer that HALF of the people will not challenge. THAT IS THE PROBLEM. we're not united anymore. We are forever devided.

  • RDcallsit Aug 22, 2013

    How can the overall grade average of NC high school and grade school students improve English/grammer scores with the huge influx of non-english speaking students?

    Consider the thousands upon thousands of non-english children invited into our schools without regard to the legal status of their parents and I don’t agree either that the children are granted American citizenship because their parents managed to escape into America and have a bunch of babies that get free everything the government can provide and then the parents are afforded tax breaks for being illegal aliens that we have to provide for because we’re ‘Americans’ and that’s what we do.

    That’s yours and my tax dollars lining the pockets of non-english non-americans that have almost completely depleted our resources to the point we've got Obama Care that will likely finish the deal.

  • Rebelyell55 Aug 21, 2013

    PreK is a waste of time and money. Study have shown that. What is needed is and addition grade after 12th that is not mandatory, but available. Other countries do this.

  • dontstopnow Aug 21, 2013

    And one more point, this is not about budget, it is about standards that should be raised instead of lowered in this state and across the country. It is about FFA and FHA and other vocational classes that benefit those that want to do something besides go to college and sit behind a desk. But maybe now all the children can wear their pants down to their knees and never learn how to speak proper English to communicate with the world. Nice going to the US for this lapse in mentality on what is needed to change society and provide competent people for the workforce.

  • dontstopnow Aug 21, 2013

    The lowing of grade standards has now paid off and all kids are getting less and less usable education. Keep offering those 'elective' courses and not expecting Math, English and Social Studies to be worth their time in public schools. Yep, this has been coming for 50 years and it has arrived, enjoy.

  • mep Aug 21, 2013

    But we are graduating them in record numbers.... most cant get into college... but at least they graduated... right?