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Cali Owings, Published August 20 2013

ND students' ACT scores slightly below national average

FARGO – Students who graduated from high school in North Dakota may not be adequately prepared for college, according to a report released today from the American College Testing company.

North Dakota’s graduating class of 2013 high school seniors who took the ACT college readiness assessment had an average composite score of 20.5 –slightly lower than the national average of 20.9.

While the scores indicate North Dakota students might be behind the rest of the nation, their ACT scores generally meet admissions standards for the state’s colleges and universities.

The four-part ACT test assesses students in reading, English, math and science reasoning. Composite scores, the average of the four single subject scores, range from 1 to 36.

ACT created college readiness benchmarks using students’ scores to determine how high a student would have to score on each ACT subtest to have a 75 percent chance of achieving a C-grade or better in the corresponding entry-level college class.

Overall, only 23 percent of 2013 ACT-tested North Dakota high school graduates met benchmarks in all four subjects. Nearly one-third of students tested in North Dakota did not meet any of the benchmarks.

While North Dakota students’ average composite ACT score fell toward the bottom of the pack, Minnesota students had the seventh-highest average score in the nation with 23.

Part of the difference can be attributed to the pool of testers. In North Dakota, ACT testing is mandatory and 98 percent of graduates in North Dakota took the test compared to 74 percent in Minnesota.

Jeff Schatz, Fargo Public Schools superintendent, said the district prefers to separate the scores of students who are involved in college preparatory coursework from those who take the test with no intention of applying to college.

Schatz said the district as a whole generally scores higher than the state average.

“I think our kids that are preparing for college are doing pretty well on the tests,” he said.

The district uses the data to determine adjustments to the high school curriculum to make sure it is adequately preparing students for college.

But the ACT test is just one aspect. District leaders also look at the admissions requirements of area colleges and universities. Planning for college starts as early as eighth grade to make sure students sign up for the classes they need to meet admissions criteria, Schatz said.

The state average ACT composite score is slightly lower than admission standards at the state’s two four-year public research universities.

Depending on a student’s grade point average, a minimum ACT score of 18 to 22 is required to be automatically accepted to the University of North Dakota.

North Dakota State University’s admissions page indicates an ACT score of 21 or higher is recommended for consideration.

The average ACT score of last year’s freshman class was 23, said Jobey Lichtblau, director of admission at NDSU.

A student with a lower ACT score might be admitted if their grades in core high school classes indicate college readiness and vice versa.

“The ACT is simply one component of the evaluation,” Lichtblau said. “It shouldn’t be the only component. You look for other factors where a student can be successful.”

The North Dakota average ACT score exceeds admissions standards at Minnesota State University-Moorhead, where 75 percent of first-year students who enrolled in 2012 scored 20 or higher on the ACT, according to data from the National Center for Education Statistics. At neighboring Concordia College, 75 percent of students scored 22 or higher.

The average student in North Dakota might not meet admissions standards at the University of Minnesota, where 75 percent of students enrolled for fall 2012 scored 25 or higher.

The state average generally meets admissions criteria for North Dakota’s four-year schools as well: 75 percent of Dickinson State University and Valley City State University students who started last year scored 18 or higher, while students at Minot State University scored 20 or higher.

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Cali Owings at (701) 241-5599