JACKSON, Mississippi — Mississippi's ACT scores rose slightly again last year, although only about one in eight Magnolia State students are ready for college by the standards of the test.
The average composite score on the test was 19, ticking up from 18.9 last year. That's still well below the national average, which rose to 21 this year from 20.9 in 2013. But it's the highest average score for Mississippi test takers in at least 20 years, a period in which Mississippi's average scores have been mired between 18.5 and 18.9.
The testing organization, based in Iowa City, Iowa, says that only 12 percent of the more than 28,000 Mississippi students who took the exam were ready for college in English, math, reading and science. That compares to 26 percent nationwide. Mississippi's share of college-ready students has risen from 10 percent in 2011.
Still, no benchmarks were met by 44 percent of students.
Broken down by subject, 53 percent of Mississippi test-takers were judged college-ready in English, while 31 percent were in reading, and 21 percent were in math and science.
State Superintendent Carey Wright said she was pleased by the increase in composite scores, and said the state should stick to the Common Core State Standards to drive further improvement.
"The increase in Mississippi's ACT scores shows we are moving in the right direction with raising the bar to better prepare students to be successful in college and their careers," Wright said in a statement. "In order to see more significant gains on the ACT, we need to continue implementing Mississippi's college and career readiness standards."
Mississippi's composite score ranked 48th among the states, while North Carolina came in 49th at 18.9 and Hawaii ranked last at 18.2. Both North Carolina and Hawaii were among the 13 that administered the ACT to all their high school graduates last year. ACT says that because different shares of students take the test in different states, it's hard to meaningfully rank scores by state. Average scores often get lower as more students are tested.
Mississippi and five other states will join the group that gives the ACT to all high school students this year, with lawmakers appropriating $1.3 million to pay for the tests.
To gauge college readiness, the state Department of Education will use the share of students passing ACT benchmarks in math, reading and English as one of 11 components to grade high schools and districts.
Because ACT scores will be used as part of the state's grading formula, an increasing number of districts are paying more attention to the test. For example, a number of public high schools offer ACT preparation classes to students.
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