ACROSS MISSISSIPPI — Mississippi’s ACT scores remained the worst in the nation last year, despite an increasing number of students taking courses that are supposed to prepare them for college.
The testing organization, based in Iowa City, Iowa, says that only 11 percent of Mississippi students were ready for college in English, math, reading and science, compared to 25 percent of students nationwide. That’s up from 9 percent of Mississippi students who scored college-ready marks in all four subjects in 2008, compared to 22 percent nationwide.
In contrast to that modest improvement, the state average on the test is 18.7 this year, down from 18.9 in 2008. The national average has stayed level at 21.1.
“Unfortunately, this disturbing trend is seen across the country and is not particularly unique to Mississippi,” James Mason, the state Department of Education’s director of student assessment, told The Clarion-Ledger. “This scoring plateau represents a very compelling case for the need to increase the rigor of our curriculum and our expectations around student performance. Our work in transitioning to the Common Core State Standards is an important step in this process.”
Mississippi, along with most other states, have adopted the standards, which are intended to make instruction more challenging and push students to use more critical thinking and problem solving skills.
The small share of students who meet all the benchmarks are much more likely to enroll in a four-year college or university, ACT found. Those who meet no benchmarks are much more likely to enroll in a community college or no college at all.
Mississippi’s scores have remained flat even though the share of students taking four or more years of English and three or more years of math, social studies and natural science has increased from 55 percent in 2008 to 75 percent in 2012, according to ACT. The organization says that course structure should prepare students for college.
Even Mississippi students who exceed ACT’s recommendations by, say, taking four years of math ending in calculus or four years of science ending in physics, end up meeting ACT’s definition of college readiness at far-lower levels than all students nationwide.
The organization’s research suggests that academic achievement in the upper end of elementary school and middle school has more of an impact on college readiness than anything that happens in high school.
Test scores show Mississippi is farthest behind the rest of the nation in math and science. More than half the state’s seniors meet the benchmark in English, but only 14 percent do so in science. Nationally, 67 percent of students meet the English benchmark while 31 percent do so in science.
One disadvantage for Mississippi: It’s one of nine states that give the ACT test to all high school seniors. Students don’t meet the national average score in any of those nine states, which include Louisiana and Tennessee. Many of the highest-ranking states test small shares of their graduating class, in part because another college test, the SAT, is the dominant test in some places.
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