Illinois is one of only nine states that require 11th-graders to take the ACT exam, and in 2013, the average score for the state's students ranked near the top.
Utah had the highest score out of the smaller group -- 20.7 out of 36 -- with Illinois students just one-tenth of a point behind. The national average is slightly higher, reflecting the better scores of students taking the ACT as a college-entrance exam rather than a high school requirement.
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Scores across the nation fell slightly in 2013 as ACT began reporting the average scores for all students taking the college readiness assessment. In the past, ACT released state score reports excluding students who required extended-time accommodations for the test. If they hadn't been counted in Illinois, the state scores would have been slightly higher than the national average.
But State Superintendent of Education Christopher Koch said in a prepared statement the shift in reporting scores was a good one.
"The Class of 2013's composite score reflects a larger pool of students than previous years by including those who require additional time to complete the exam," Koch said. "Just as we require universal testing, we applaud ACT's move to include these time-extended score results to help promote high standards and college readiness for everyone."
Illinois has been requiring 11th-graders to take the ACT as part of the Prairie State Achievement Exam for more than a decade. The ACT tests students in English, math, science and reading. Each subject area has a benchmark score that indicates a students' likelihood of earning a C or better in first-year college courses. To be considered ready for college in reading, students in 2013 had to score one point higher than their peers in prior years, which affects historical readiness comparisons.
According to the state board of education, though, Illinois students have shown steady progress in improving college readiness over the last five years. In 2009, 22 percent of students were considered college-ready based on the ACT. In 2013, it was 25 percent.
Beyond the ACT, it has become harder for Illinois students to prove mastery on state exams. The ISAT, for third- through eighth-graders, will be fully tied to more rigorous standards this spring after being partially aligned last year. Educators hope the higher standards prompt greater achievement.
In a prepared statement, State Board of Education Chairman Gery Chico said Illinois is moving in the right direction with the higher expectations. "We have shown steady gains on the ACT, and I have no doubt that we will continue to see improved scores as we implement higher learning standards for prekindergarten through 12th-graders and higher performance expectations for elementary students," he said.