A majority of the nation's 2013 high school graduates are ill-prepared for college success, but Nebraska and Iowa graduates are slightly better off, according to an annual report from ACT.

Nationally, just 26 percent of graduates who took the ACT college entrance exam scored well enough to expect success in four core college-level academic subjects: English, reading, mathematics and science. Twenty-eight percent of Nebraska graduates and 32 percent of Iowa graduates hit that benchmark.

Both states tested a greater percentage of kids than the national average and turned in scores that beat the nation's average composite score.

The findings are in ACT's annual report, “The Condition of College and Career Readiness,” being released today.

ACT Inc. is an independent, nonprofit organization based in Iowa City.

The benchmarks are predictors of success in freshman year courses. They specify the minimum score that would give a student about a 3-in-4 chance of earning a C or higher in a typical credit-bearing first-year college course in that subject area.

ACT research suggests that students who meet the benchmarks are more likely than those who do not to stay in college and earn a degree.

In response to the report, Nebraska officials emphasized that the state's students continue to do well on the ACT compared with states that also test a large percentage of graduates.

Both Iowa and Nebraska test a majority of their graduates. In some states, especially in the East, the SAT is favored and relatively few students take the ACT.

Of the 13 states with 80 percent or more graduates taking the ACT, Nebraska scored at the top with an average 21.5 score, said Betty VanDeventer, spokeswoman for the Nebraska Department of Education. The maximum possible score is 36. Nationally, the average score was 20.9.

Nebraska's score was down from 22.0 a year ago, but an ACT official cautioned that the decline was probably caused by a surge in the number of test-takers.

“I would not interpret that drop as a meaningful drop in student achievement,” said Ed Colby, an ACT spokesman.

Included in the scores, for the first time, were students from eight Nebraska school districts that tested their entire junior classes in spring 2012, not just the students going to college.

Those districts are participating in a state pilot project that could help the Nebraska Board of Education determine whether the ACT could be used in place of the state's 11th-grade standardized tests. Participating districts are Hastings, Alliance, Sidney, South Sioux City, Lincoln, Columbus, Gering and Scottsbluff.

Lincoln Public Schools, typically a state leader in ACT scores, saw a significant drop when the district went to 100 percent participation.

Nebraska's score was also affected by a change in how ACT reported scores. This year, ACT included the scores of students who received special test-taking accommodations, which previously were not counted.

For instance, this year's state averages include students diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, who were allowed more time to complete the exam, Colby said.

“You're including a more diverse group of students as far as their academic preparation,” he said.

Colby said the 2013 scores should be considered a new baseline for gauging future performance on the test.

Iowa's 2013 score of 22.1 reflected no change from last year.

Colby said it's too early to tell whether states that adopted the Common Core state standards are getting any boost in scores. Nebraska has not adopted them.

He said it would probably take as long as a decade to determine the impact.

“Too many students are likely to struggle after they graduate from high school,” Whitmore said. “As a nation, we must set ambitious goals and take strong action to address this consistent problem. The competitiveness of our young people and of our nation as a whole in the global economy is at stake.”

The report examines scores of a record 1.8 million students, which ACT called the largest and most diverse group of graduates ever to take the exam, and also likely the broadest in terms of academic preparation.

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ACT: A year of change      
A surge in the number of first-time test-takers caused scores to decline in some schools.      
School 2013 score % tested 2012 score
Bellevue East 21.4 65 21.2
Bellevue West 23.2 69 22.8
Bennington 23.4 86 23.3
C.B. Abraham Lincoln 21.2 45 20.7
C.B. Thomas Jefferson 19.6 46 19.8
D.C. West 22.3 77 20
Elkhorn 24 86 23.7
Elkhorn South 23.9 94 23.7
Fremont 21.4 62 21.4
Gretna 22.7 78 23.4
Lewis Central 21.3 70 21.3
Lincoln East 23.8 100 24.8
Lincoln High 18.6 100 22
Lincoln North Star 18.5 100 20.8
Lincoln Northeast 19.2 100 21.2
Lincoln Southeast 21.9 100 23.5
Lincoln Southwest 21.4 100 23.6
Millard North 24.3 85 24.7
Millard South 21.7 63 21.4
Millard West 23.3 90 23.7
Omaha Archdiocese high schools 24.4* 97 24.2
Omaha Benson 17.1 56 17
Omaha Bryan 17 62 17.2
Omaha Burke 21 78 20.4
Omaha Central 20.7 69 20.3
Omaha North 19 69 19.2
Omaha Northwest 18.2 60 17.4
Omaha South 17.5 66 17.5
Papillion-La Vista 21.8 75 22.5
Papillion-La Vista South 23.2 75 22.8
Ralston 19 94 19.8
Springfield Platteview 21.8 77 22.8
Westside 24.2 83 24.3
       
* Average composite score for 17 high schools      
in the Omaha area and northeast Nebraska,      
including Skutt, Gross, Marian, Mount Michael,      
Roncalli, Creighton Prep, Duchesne, Mercy and      
Archbishop Bergan in Fremont. The archdiocese      
does not provide school-by-school scores.      
Source: School districts    

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