The number of Connecticut high school students taking the ACT college readiness assessment exam as a means of demonstrating their academic ability to prospective colleges jumped 15 percent from 2010 to 2014, reflecting the increasing popularity of the test, the major national competitor to the Scholastic Aptitude Test, or SAT. The average composite score of Connecticut students taking the exam ranked #2 in the nation, behind Massachusetts and just ahead of New Hampshire, Maine and New York. In 2010, there were 10,453 students who took the ACT exam in Connecticut. By the graduating class of 2014, that number had increased to 12,044, reflecting a steady increase. In 2011, 10,809 students took the ACT, followed in 2012 by 11, 192 students and 11.551 a year later.
The average score of state students has also climbed, from an average of 22.9 in 2010 to 23.6 in 2014. The national average has remained steady, at 21.0. The scores of Connecticut students rose in all four components: from 23.8 to 24.2 in English, 23.5 to 24.1 in Math, 23.9 to 24.5 in Reading and 22.9 to 23.6 in Science. All four exceed the national average among the class of 2014 taking the ACT.
Through the years, the ACT exam has traditionally been the college entrance exam of choice mainly by students in the western and mid-west states, while the SAT dominated in the east. In recent years, that has begun to change, as colleges look to determine which exam, among other factors, are the most reliable predictors of academic performance in college.
The percentage of graduates taking the SAT in Connecticut in 2014 was 29 percent. In Massachusetts it was 23 percent, in New Hampshire 20 percent and in New York 27 percent. In Maine, only 9 percent took the exam. By contrast, 76 percent of the Class of 2014 in Minnesota took the exam, 73 percent in Wisconsin, and 86 percent in Nebraska. A dozen states require students to take the exam.
The ACT and SAT have different areas of emphasis and approach. ACT is an achievement test, measuring what a student has learned in school. The SAT is more of an aptitude test, testing reasoning and verbal abilities. According to the Princeton Review, among the differences between the tests include that ACT questions tend to be more straightforward, math concepts tested are more advanced, and it includes a science section. The SAT has a stronger emphasis on vocabulary.
More than 1.84 million 2014 graduates—a record 57 percent of the national graduating class—took the ACT. This is a 3 percent increase from 2013 (despite a smaller total number of U.S. graduates nationally) and an 18 percent increase compared to 2010.
Connecticut students in the Class of 2014 taking the ACT exam exceeded the national average in the percentage of students ready for college-level coursework, according to the ACT criteria. A benchmark score is the minimum score needed on an ACT subject-area test to indicate a 50% chance of obtaining a B or higher or about a 75% chance of obtaining a C or higher in the corresponding credit-bearing college course.
For Connecticut students taking the ACT, 86 percent surpassed the benchmark in English Composition, compared with 64 percent nationally. In Math, 69 percent of Connecticut students and 43 percent of students nationally met the benchmark. In Reading the breakdown was 65-44, in science, 59-37.
The ACT standards are designed to assess the types of skills needed for academic success. They serve as a direct link between what students have learned and what they are ready to do next, according to ACT.