- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 21, 2002

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Scores dipped for the high school class of 2002 on the ACT college entrance exam, breaking a five-year streak in which results remained unchanged, according to the test maker.

ACT Inc., a nonprofit agency based in Iowa City, Iowa, said the drop was to be expected because Illinois and Colorado began requiring that all high school juniors, starting with the class of 2002, take the test irrespective of whether they are enrolled in college-prep courses.

Using scores students received on the latest ACT they took, 2002 graduates averaged a composite of 20.8, down from the 21 average maintained from 1997 to 2001.

A record number of students, 1.12 million of graduates, took the ACT this year, about 46,000 more than last year.

The results this year are the first since Illinois and Colorado began assessing their public schools by having all 11th-graders take the ACT at state expense, even if they don't plan on attending college.

Richard Ferguson, chief executive of ACT, said in a statement that the requirement had a positive result: "Thousands of students in Illinois and Colorado who had not indicated an interest in attending college were identified as ready for college coursework."

Illinois added the ACT to its two days of state tests to assess learning. Colorado is using ACT scores to evaluate schools and to encourage more students to attend college.

In Illinois, the state average this year was 20.1, down from 21.6 last year, when the test was taken by an estimated 71 percent of graduates.

Colorado's state average was also 20.1 this year, down from 21.5 last year, when an estimated 62 percent of graduates took the test.

David Bahna, an assessment consultant in Colorado's Education Department, declined to comment on the scores without a look at results from other states.

Robert Schiller, Illinois schools superintendent, said his state's policy might open doors for students unable to afford the $25 test fee or who never realized they were college material.

In college admissions, the ACT is designed for use with high school grades to predict academic readiness for college. Scored on a 1-36 point scale, the ACT includes four exams: English, reading, mathematics and science.

Standardized college tests are regularly criticized as unfair because of gender and race disparity in scores.

This year, males averaged modestly better than females on the ACT, 20.9 compared with 20.7, the same gap as in recent years. But girls also made up 56 percent of test takers this year.

Differences in scores between whites and minorities also continued.

Last year, average scores for whites and Asian-Americans were 21.8 and 21.7, respectively, while they were 16.9 for blacks.

This year, whites averaged 21.7; Asian-Americans, 21.6; blacks, 16.8. (Hispanic students were in two groups: Puerto Ricans, who averaged 18.8, and Mexican-Americans, 18.2)

While some four-year colleges and universities do not require entrance exams, most do. Most schools accept either the ACT or its competitor, the SAT.

The SAT, owned by the New York-based College Board, was taken at least once by 1.3 million of 2002 high school graduates. Those scores are to be released Aug. 27.

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