After a 10-year reign, Minnesota no longer leads the nation when it comes to its ACT college entrance exam scores, according to data released Wednesday.
But the reason for the drop also was cause for celebration at Minnesota Department of Education headquarters.
That is because while in previous years Minnesota saw about three-quarters of its graduating seniors take the test, nearly all of its 2016 graduates took the exam — and the greater the participation, the greater the likelihood that the composite average score would fall.
Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius said in a news release that she liked the trade-off of seeing the state “opening doors and raising the bar for all kids, especially those we have left behind before.”
Minnesota’s average score of 21.1 out of a possible 36 exceeds the national average of 20.8, and the state still can claim bragging rights in a new category by having the highest average composite score among the 18 states that provided the ACT to all students.
Under the previous measure by which Minnesota earned acclaim — the state’s ranking among those in which at least half of the graduates took the test — Iowa now ranks first with an average score of 22.1. In Iowa, 68 percent of graduates took the ACT.
More Minnesota students met each of the four benchmarks — English, reading, math and science — than did students across the country, with 29 percent compared with 26 percent nationally, the Education Department reported.
The testing company uses the benchmarks to determine how well graduates are prepared for college-level course work, and the latest scores indicate that many are not ready.
Only 38 percent of graduating seniors who took the test across the country hit the college-prepared benchmark in at least three of the four subjects tested, the company said. That compares with 40 percent a year ago.
In Minnesota, results were broken down by race, and for each group, the percentages of students meeting at least three benchmarks declined from a year ago. This year, the biggest gap among students hitting three or more benchmarks was between whites and blacks, with 49 percent of white students meeting that mark, compared with 12 percent of black students, the results show.
Looking ahead, Cassellius said she hopes to see more underrepresented students take advantage of fee waivers to retake the test to improve their scores. In Minnesota, 5,137 fee waivers were issued and 3,892 were used. Nearly 40 percent of the unused waivers were issued to black students.
Still, Cassellius said, “when we see the number of American Indian students taking the exam more than doubling, Hispanic students increasing by two-thirds and black students increasing by almost 40 percent, it tells me we are removing barriers and creating more opportunities. We will continue to forge ahead.”