Politics & Government

NC high school students rank near the bottom on the ACT exam. There’s a reason why.

In this May 6, 2015 file photo, a computer-based practice ACT English test is displayed on a computer monitor in Washington.
In this May 6, 2015 file photo, a computer-based practice ACT English test is displayed on a computer monitor in Washington. AP

North Carolina high school students continue to rank near the bottom of the nation on the ACT exam, but there’s at least a partial reason for the state’s performance.

New results released Wednesday from the Class of 2018 show that North Carolina’s average score remained at 19.1 out of a possible 36. The state was below the national average of 20.8 and tied for 46th among the 50 states and the District of Columbia.

One reason for North Carolina’s low national ranking is that it’s one of only 17 states that requires all its high school students to take the ACT. Scores are much higher in states where the standardized exam is not mandatory and might only be taken by students who intend to go to college.

But even among the 17 states where everyone is taking the ACT, only Mississippi, South Carolina and Nevada have a lower score. North Carolina is tied with Alabama. North Carolina is also ahead of Hawaii, where 89 percent of students took the ACT.

North Carolina trails behind other Southern states such as Tennessee, Arkansas and Louisiana that also require 100 percent of students to take the exam.

North Carolina used to be above the national average until the state began requiring high school juniors to take the exam beginning in the 2012-13 school year. Previously, the SAT was the preferred college admissions exam for North Carolina high school students. But it shifted when students could take the ACT for free as opposed to paying to take the SAT.

Since 2013, the state’s average ACT score has risen from 18.7. It’s been at 19.1 now for the past three years.

The ACT tests English, reading, math and science. North Carolina’s average scores were 18.0 in English, 19.3 in math, 19.5 in reading and 19.2 in science. Those scores are all higher than they were in 2013, except for math.

The new results come as the national average score fell from 21.0 to 20.8 for the 1.9 million students who took the ACT. But what was more worrisome for ACT officials is the national drop in the percentage of students who are ready to take first-year college courses in math and reading.

“The negative trend in math readiness is a red flag for our country, given the growing importance of math and science skills in the increasingly tech-driven U.S. and global job market,” ACT CEO Marten Roorda said in a news release. “It is vital that we turn this trend around for the next generation and make sure students are learning the math skills they need for success in college and career.”

T. Keung Hui: 919-829-4534, @nckhui
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