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October 15, 2002
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ACT scores improve in 2002; fewer students report taking core courses

ACT scores for Illinois juniors increased slightly in the 2002 PSAE administration even though a lower percentage of students reported taking core courses, according to the Illinois State Board of Education.

The mean ACT Composite score for 2002 juniors increased to 19.5 compared to 19.4 for juniors in 2001. This is the second year that virtually all high school juniors in Illinois were required to take the ACT as part of the Prairie State Achievement Examination. More than 6,000 additional students took the ACT as part of the PSAE in 2002 than in 2001 - 120,137 in 2002 versus 114,099 in 2001.

Even though taking core preparatory courses has been shown to improve test performance, a slightly smaller percentage of 2002 test takers reported taking core courses - defined by ACT as four or more years of English, and three or more of mathematics, social sciences and natural sciences. Only 39% reported taking core courses this year compared to 39% 40% in 2001. Average scores increased in 2002 for both students who reported taking core courses and those who did not. Core students earned and average ACT composite of 22.4 in 2002 and those with less than core averaged 17.8.

The 2002 ACT produced more high-scoring students than in 2001. The number of students scoring among the top ten percent of students in the nation with a score of 28 or greater increased by more than 1,400 students to a total of 10,716. Of those, 31 achieved a perfect score of 36.

In 2002, 60 percent of Illinois juniors earned ACT Composite scores of 18 or higher, a score that would typically gain admission to colleges with liberal admissions policies. The number of students in this scoring range increased 3,679 students over 2001. A very high percentage of students (96%) indicated they were considering college and requested their scores be sent to colleges and universities.

Other results reported from the ACT portion of the 2002 PSAE:

  • English scores increased dramatically; other test results were also generally positive. Compared to 2001 results, the mean ACT English score increased .3 to 19.6, the ACT Reading score increased .1 to 19.6, the ACT Science score remained stable at 19.5, and the ACT Mathematics score declined .1 to 19.7.
  • Performance gains in selected sub-score areas. English subscores increased dramatically within the Usage-Mechanics area while the Rhetorical Skills subscore remained unchanged. In Reading, gains were made within the Social Studies/Science area while the Arts/Literature score remained stable. In Mathematics, a large gain was made within the Algebra/Coordinate Geometry area, but slight declines were indicated within both the Pre-Algebra/Elementary Algebra and Plane Geometry/Trigonometry areas.
  • The performance gap between males and females narrowed; females out-performed males. The student population was evenly divided between male and female. Females and males both increased their average ACT Composite scores in 2002 as compared to 2001. Males increased by .2 to 19.5; females increased .1 to 19.7.
  • Scores for nearly every racial ethnic subgroup improved but significant performance gaps remained. Participation numbers for all non-white subgroups increased in 2002 – most dramatically for African American/Black (up 10%), Mexican American (up 20%), and Puerto Rican/Hispanic (up 12%). Scores increased for every group except Mexican American/Chicano and Asian American/Pacific Islander (stable) and Puerto Rican/Hispanic (.1 decline). The gap between average scores remains large however. For instance, Caucasian American/White averaged 20.9 versus an average score of 16.2 for African American/Black. Differential core course-taking patterns are one factor effecting this performance gap. For example, nearly every non-White group with the exception of Asians has a core-taking rate of 32% or less as compared to the 46% average of the Caucasian American/White group. However, even taking into account the core differential, average scores for similar core patterns varied widely among ethnicity. Differential student aspirations, grade point averages, quality of courses and curriculum, family support and expectations, and school/community resources represent other factors that likely effected scores.
  • More students demonstrated higher level skills. The number of juniors in the very upper and more complex categories of skill areas as defined by ACT’s Standards for Transition increased over 2001. Within the highest two categories of skills (defined by what students likely know and can do) within each ACT test, the percentage of students increased compared to 2001 in English and Science, held steady in Mathematics, and declined slightly in Reading. Reports are provided to each school and district analyzing their student performance by skill area. Resources were also provided to schools for addressing deficiencies.
  • Large numbers of students still scored in the lowest skill categories. The percentage of Illinois students who were categorized as still developing the skills measured by the ACT (falling within the lowest skill range of ACT’s Standards for Transition) ranged between 24% on the ACT Science test to 34% on the ACT English test.

ACT WorkKeys Results Show Higher Achievement of Important Workplace Skills

Juniors also took two ACT WorkKeys tests as part of the PSAE, Reading for Information and Applied Mathematics. More students scored in the highest skill level in mathematics that has been identified as necessary for 1% of the most mathematically challenging jobs. Fourteen percent of Illinois students attained this level in 2002, up from ten percent in 2001. Fifty-eight percent of Illinois juniors achieved mathematics skill levels that would qualify them for 90% of all jobs profiled. This group declined from 61% in 2001.

The percentage of students scoring in the highest level in reading doubled in 2002 when 6% reached this level, identified as required for the top 2% of jobs. Fifty-eight percent of juniors met or exceeded the reading skill level required by 86% of jobs, declining slightly from 59% in 2001.

Additional findings reported from the ACT WorkKeys results included:

  • An increased number and percentage of juniors may be at risk in terms of their employment skills. Based on their WorkKeys scores, 7% of the students in math and 5% in Reading did not achieve a minimum skill level required for any of the jobs profiled. In 2001, the comparable figures were 6% in math and 4% in reading.
  • The employability skill gap between racial ethnic groups is large and increased in size in 2002 compared to 2001. In mathematics, the percentage of Caucasian/White students who achieved the skill levels required by most of the profiled jobs is nearly twice that of the percentage of Hispanic and three times that of African American/Black (68%, 35%, and 23% respectively). In reading, 65% of Caucasian American/White students achieved at the targeted level as compared to 39% of the Hispanic and 37% of the African American Black population.
  • Females achieved at higher levels than males in reading, and the gender skill gap increased compared to 2001. The percentage of males achieving the skill level in reading required by most of the profiled jobs decreased to 54% from 56% while the percentage of females in the comparable category decreased to 62% from 63%.
  • Males placed more often in the higher mathematical skill categories, and the gender skill gap increased from 2001. The percentage of males achieving the skill level in mathematics required by most of the profiled jobs decreased to 61% from 63% while the percentage of females in the comparable category decreased to 56% from 60%.

The Prairie State Achievement Examination is given to all high school juniors in April each year. The PSAE measures student achievement in reading, mathematics, writing, science and social science. It is the first test in the nation to combine state-developed items with a college-entrance examination and workplace-skills tests to gauge achievement of rigorous standards. Students receive scores on each of the five standards areas that must be included on permanent records. In addition, students get ACT results that may be used for college admission and WorkKeys scores that may be used for employment applications.