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Kentucky graduates' ACT results lagging national levels in college readiness marks

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LOUISVILLE, Kentucky — Kentucky students improved but still lag behind national averages for ACT college-readiness benchmarks in four core subjects, with the biggest deficit in math scores.

Less than one-third of the state's test-takers are fully prepared for the leap to college math courses, the scores show.

On the flip side, Kentucky was on the threshold of surpassing the national average in college readiness for English, reading and science when factoring in students within a point or two of reaching the measurement.

Kentucky's 2015 high school graduates performed best in English, with 60 percent of the students meeting the ACT college-readiness benchmark. The national average was 64 percent, according to data released Wednesday by the Iowa-based organization that administers the exam.

Kentucky's lowest scores were in math and science, the report said. Thirty-two percent of Kentucky test-takers achieved the college-readiness measurement both in math and science. National averages were 42 percent in math and 38 percent in science.

Thirty-nine percent of Kentucky students scored well enough to be considered college-ready in reading, compared with 46 percent in the U.S.

Twenty-one percent of Kentucky's Class of 2015 achieved college readiness in all four subjects, compared with 28 percent nationally.

Students reaching the benchmarks are seen as having a 50 percent chance of getting a B or higher and about a 75 percent chance of earning a C or higher in a typical first-year college course in that subject, according to the report.

All four benchmark scores in Kentucky were improvements from a year ago, but the reading score is down from 44 percent in 2012.

Unlike most states, Kentucky tests all its students even if they don't plan on attending college, which lowers Kentucky's overall ACT scores, state educational officials have said.

Kentucky Education Commissioner Terry Holliday, who is retiring at the end of the month, said the low math score should be a motivator for action.

"I think it's time for the state to probably put together a math task force and to look at teacher preparation," he said.

The goal should be to provide math specialization training for many more middle and elementary school teachers, he said.

"We need to ask the existing teachers 'What training do you need?' and keep providing that," Holliday said. "And we need to really change our teacher preparation programs to better meet the expectations of the math standards."

Meanwhile, state education officials said more public high school graduates in Kentucky are meeting the state's college-readiness benchmarks on the ACT exam. The percentage of students meeting Council on Postsecondary Education benchmarks is up in every subject in the past three years, they said.

"The numbers show that our high school graduates are better prepared for college than ever before," Holliday said.

The ACT report showed a sizable gap between Kentucky high school graduates aspiring to postsecondary education and those enrolling.

Eighty-nine percent of Kentucky's 2014 ACT-tested graduating class wanted to enroll in classes beyond high school but 57 percent actually did, it said. The report said if that "aspirational gap" had been fully closed, an additional 15,547 Kentucky students would have enrolled in postsecondary schools.

Among this year's graduating class in Kentucky, 88 percent indicated they wanted to continue their education, the report said.

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