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Sub-standardized testing

Education

American high school students lost ground this year on the ACT standardized test, according to results released Wednesday. High school seniors taking the ACT in 2013 scored an average of 0.2 points lower than last year’s graduates, dropping to a five-year low.

The ACT tests for college preparation in four subject areas: English, math, reading, and science. The test is a few hours long, and is composed of sections of multiple-choice questions.

Most college-bound high school seniors take either the ACT or the somewhat similar SAT test, and colleges use the results to determine admissions and distribute scholarships. Colleges rely on the scores to indicate students’ readiness for their freshman year. The test makers set a benchmark intended to show whether students are proficient enough in a subject area to have success during their first year of college. 

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This year’s drop in scores was worst in English, but it was still the strongest subject, with 64 percent of students showing college readiness. Science was the weakest subject, with only 36 percent of students meeting the standard. Only one-quarter of test-takers met college readiness standards in all four areas, while about one-third of students failed to meet a single one of the standards. 

The ACT is gaining popularity, and just over half of 2013 high school seniors took the test, 22 percent more than in 2009. ACT officials claim the increased number of test takers, some of whom are not pursuing college, could account for part of the decline in scores.  

The results also illustrated again the racial disparity in academics. Asian and white students scored highest, on average, in every area, with 43 percent of Asian students demonstrating college readiness in all four subjects. Only one in 20 African-Americans showed proficiency in all four subjects.

While the ACT is achieving more market share in the testing world, some researchers found the results may not be the best indicator of college success. One study by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that while math and English scores predicted college success with some accuracy, the “two subtests, Science and Reading, provide essentially no predictive power regarding college outcomes.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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