NEWS

Illinois ACT scores, percent of test takers rise

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Springfield – Illinois’ high school graduating class of 2000 bested both its predecessors and the nation by posting a record-high composite 21.5 on the ACT test.

The state score rose a tenth of a percent over 1999’s composite score of 21.4. The national composite score remained flat at 21. Making the improvement even more impressive, the state composite rose as even more students took the test.

About 72 percent of this year’s graduating class took the ACT – the college entrance exam preferred by most Midwestern states. That is up five percentage points over last year. In all, 90,450 public and private high school graduates took the ACT as sophomores, juniors or seniors.

Illinois’ ACT scores are up one-tenth of a percent over last year in mathematics (21.5), reading (21.7) and science reasoning (21.4), and held even in English (20.9). State scores outpaced national scores in each category as well.

“This is outstanding news,” said State Superintendent Glenn W. McGee about this year’s ACT data. “These figures really illustrate the tremendous work being done by our students, teachers and local communities to prepare our young people for life after high school,” McGee said. “We are definitely moving in the right direction.”

The ACT scores endorse the State Board’s push for local districts to align their curricula to the rigorous Illinois Learning Standards, McGee said.

The scores of students engaged in a “core or more” curriculum are higher across all subject areas than those not taking such classes. ACT defines “core” curricula as including four years or more of English, and three years or more of math, social science and natural science. “Core or more” courses tend to be more challenging like those taught as part of a standards-led curricula.

Local districts set their own curricula. But state graduation requirements mandate at least three years of language arts; two years of mathematics; one year of science; two years of social studies; one year of either music, art, foreign language or vocational education; and nine weeks of consumer education. Students planning to go to college must take at least four years of English; three years of social studies, mathematics and science; and two years of either music, art, foreign languages or vocational education.

The number of minority students overall taking the ACT also fell well behind that of white students. Only 11 percent of Illinois African American students and five percent of Hispanic students took the ACT this year, compared to 68 percent of white students.

That problem will be solved, next spring, however, when all public high school juniors take the Prairie State Achievement Exam (PSAE) for the first time. The ACT is one component of the PSAE.

Still, McGee said, more must yet be done to encourage minority students and students from lower socioeconomic to take “core”-type courses and to seriously consider and pursue higher education. Every student must be given every opportunity to engage in a challenging curriculum, McGee said.

“Anything less than a total commitment to giving all of our students the education they deserve and the tools they need to succeed after high school, cheats them out of the kind of life we want for all of our kids,” McGee said.

“Everyone involved in education must work tirelessly toward that goal to make Illinois education truly Second to None,” he said.

The PSAE is the first mandatory state-level assessment ever to combine a major college entrance exam (the ACT), state-created test items and questions from two ACT Work Keys tests in writing and math – all tied to and assessing students’ mastery of the rigorous Illinois Learning Standards.

The PSAE will give all students meaningful, valuable information that will help them in their post-high school endeavors whether they go to college or to work. Some education leaders have suggested that, because it incorporates the ACT, the PSAE may also help convince some students unsure about going to college to pursue higher education.

NOTE TO MEDIA: HIGH SCHOOLS HAVE BEEN SENT THEIR SCORES, BUT A STATEWIDE LIST WILL NOT BE AVAILABLE UNTIL SCHOOL REPORT CARDS ARE RELEASED IN OCTOBER.