SPRINGFIELD, -- This year's Illinois high school graduates performed slightly better on the ACT college entrance exam than last year's, in one of the final years test will serve as a mandatory state assessment.
Illinois students' 20.7 average score on the four-subject test edged the previous year's 20.6, but it fell just short of the national average of 21. The test is graded on a 36-point scale.
State education officials praised the progress Wednesday, highlighting the fact that Illinois' scores were the second-highest among the dozen states that administered the ACT to all of their high school graduates. But the testing company's report showed some noteworthy performance gaps among Illinois' students.
Black and Latino students continue to trail white and Asian students on the test, though those gaps have closed somewhat over the past five years, particularly with higher Latino student scores.
There were 184 perfect scores for Illinois students who graduated this year, which was 57 more than the previous year. However, only 26 percent of test takers performed high enough on the English, college algebra, biology and social sciences sections for the testing company to consider them prepared to earn a "C" or higher in first-year college courses. The previous year, that figure was 25 percent of students.
State Board of Education Chairman Gery Chico said the results showed that the state was making steady progress in preparing students for college and careers. He praised the recent implementation of more rigorous Common Core standards with making students "more prepared to compete on a national level and to effectively use assessments to demonstrate readiness for their futures."
The data released Wednesday includes the results of Illinois' 158,037 public and private high schools graduates, as well as the scores of public high school juniors who, since 2002, have taken the test each spring as part of mandatory state testing.
Tests were given to all high school juniors across the state for the last time this spring. Next year, the state will move to administer the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers tests, which are tied to the Common Core.
Still, with the popularity of the ACT and its frequent use as a college entrance exam, the state board requested -- and received -- state funding to help cover the costs of administering both tests.
Even though the ACT will no longer be mandatory, board spokeswoman Mary Fergus told The Associated Press that the board believes it will have enough money to administer it to all districts that want it next year.