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Mississippi ACT scores stay flat for 2015 graduates, but share judged college-ready inches up


JACKSON, Mississippi — Mississippi's ACT scores were flat last year, although a few more Magnolia State students are ready for college by the standards of the test.

The state's 2015 high school graduates made an average composite score of 19 on the test, the same as in 2014. That's still below the national average, which stayed steady at 21 this year.

"While the state saw an increase in 2014 in the average composite score for graduating seniors in public and private schools, this year's ACT score remained flat at 19," state Superintendent Carey Wright said in a statement. "This report shows that Mississippi must continue to challenge students with higher standards and rigorous coursework that will better prepare them for college."

Average ACT scores for Mississippi students had been stuck between 18.5 and 18.9 for at least 20 years before 2014.

Mississippi paid $1.3 million for all high school juniors to take the test last year, but Mississippi Department of Education officials say those results won't register until current seniors graduate.

The testing organization, based in Iowa City, Iowa, says 13 percent of the more than 29,000 Mississippi students who took the exam were ready for college in English, math, reading and science. That's up from 12 percent in 2014 and 10 percent in 2011. Nationwide, 28 percent of students meet all four benchmarks.

Only 3 percent of African American students met all four benchmarks in Mississippi, with all black students posting an average score of 16.6. Among white students, the average score was 20.8, with 21 percent hitting college-ready levels in all four fields. Students who took a more rigorous curriculum were likely to score higher.

Broken down by subject, 52 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. No benchmarks were met by 45 percent of Mississippi students overall.

Mississippi's composite score tied for 48th among the states with North Carolina, while Hawaii ranked last at 18.5. 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. Some northeastern states with high average scores have relatively few students take the ACT because the SAT is the dominant college test in that region.

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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