In 2012 slightly more high-school graduates who took the ACT examination met its benchmark scores for college readiness in English, mathematics, and science. But the percentage who met those standards, plus the reading benchmark, remained at the same level as last year, according to a report released on Wednesday by the company that administers the college-entrance test.
The proportions of test takers in the Class of 2012 who met the mark in English (67 percent), math (46 percent), and science (31 percent) were each up one percentage point from 2011, while the proportion meeting the mark in reading (52 percent) remained at the same level as last year, says the report, "The Condition of College & Career Readiness." The benchmarks measure whether a student has a 75-percent chance of getting a C or higher in a first-year college course in that subject.
About 25 percent of high-school graduates met the benchmark in all four categories, the same proportion as last year.
"While encouraging, far too many students are graduating from high school ill-prepared for the academic rigors of college and career," the report says. "The results again indicate that the U.S. education system must do better at helping our young people to compete with their peers in other nations for meaningful jobs and careers in the 21st-century global economy."
Racial disparities in achievement on the test persisted this year as well. For black students, the average composite score remained flat from last year, at 17 out of a possible 36, while scores for American Indians decreased slightly, to 18.4. Hispanic students increased their average composite score slightly, to 18.9 from 18.7 in 2011, while Pacific Islanders increased their score to 19.8 from 19.5. The average composite scores for Asian and white students remained at the same level as last year, at 23.6 and 22.4, respectively.
There also remained a large gap among ethnic and racial groups in terms of how many met the benchmark in all four categories, with Asians having the largest proportion, at 42 percent, followed by whites, at 32 percent. Other racial and ethnic groups continued to struggle, although there were some modest gains. Pacific Islanders who met the benchmark in all four categories were at 17 percent, with Hispanics at 13 percent, American Indians at 11 percent, and African-Americans at 5 percent.
Over all, the average composite score, at 21.1, has remained at roughly the same level going back to 2008, although the report notes that the testing population has become more diverse as more students take the exam. More than 1.66 million 2012 high-school graduates—or about 52 percent of all high-school graduates nationally—took the ACT, up from 1.62 million last year.
But Robert A. Schaeffer, public-education director of the National Center for Fair & Open Testing, said the results were a sign that the nation's emphasis on rigorous testing after the passage of the No Child Left Behind law has been a failure.
"The fact that scores are flat and have been for the last five years," Mr. Schaeffer said, "and that achievement gaps between whites and Asians on the one hand and Pacific Islanders, Hispanics, American Indians, and African-Americans on the other are, in fact, growing and not narrowing as promised, shows the failure of the politically driven high-stakes testing policy in this country."
Correction (8/22/2012, 12:46 p.m.): This article originally misstated the trend in average composite scores on the ACT since 2008. The score has remained at the same level, 21.1, in every year since 2008 except 2010, when it was 21.0. It has not been 21.1 in every year. The article has been updated to reflect this correction.