JACKSON, Miss. — Mississippi’s ACT scores inched up in the second year that all public high school graduates in the Magnolia State took the test.

The state’s 2017 graduates, public and private, had an average composite score of 18.6 on the college entrance exam. That’s above last year’s 18.4, but below the 19 that students scored in 2014 and 2015.

The dip came when Mississippi started paying for all public high school juniors to take the test, starting with the class that graduated in spring 2016. The effect of that move was to push more students who weren’t taking strong academic offerings into the testing pool, driving down the state’s average scores. The number of Mississippi students tested in the class of 2017 was 36,000, almost 7,000 more than in 2015.

“We took, as you would expect, a dip when we started the statewide administration at the 11th grade,” said Kim Benton, the chief academic officer at the Mississippi Department of Education. “What I think this shows is we’re back on the upward trend.”

The national average rebounded to 21, the same level as in 2015, after dropping to 20.8 in 2016.

Average ACT scores for Mississippi students have fluctuated between 18.4 and 19 for more than 20 years.

The nonprofit testing organization, based in Iowa City, Iowa, says 12 percent of Mississippi students who took the exam were ready for college in English, math, reading and science. Nationwide, 27 percent of students meet all four benchmarks.

Only 2 percent of African-American students met all four benchmarks in Mississippi, with all black students posting an average score of 16.4. Among white students, the average score was 20.6, with 20 percent hitting college-ready levels in all four fields. Students who took a more rigorous curriculum were likely to score higher. But black students who took college preparatory courses scored worse, on average, than white students who did not.

Broken down by subject, 47 percent of Mississippi test-takers were judged college-ready in English, while 29 percent were in reading, and 20 percent were in math and science.

Mississippi’s composite score was 49th among the states, with Nevada ranked last at 17.8. 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 states with high average scores have few students take the ACT because the SAT is the dominant college test.

Because ACT scores are used as part of Mississippi’s public school grading formula, an increasing number of districts are paying more attention to the test. Some public high schools offer ACT preparation classes to students.


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