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More California students taking and doing well on the ACT, but worries persist

August 19, 2009 | 12:01 am

More California students in the class of 2009 than ever before took the ACT college entrance exam, and they outperformed their peers nationally, according to the nonprofit organization that administers the test.

"I am pleased to see that a record number of California students this year took the ACT college readiness exam," said state Supt. of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell. "This continued increase is a clear indication that each year growing numbers of our students are setting and reaching a higher standard and making the decision to go on to college."

Nearly 81,500 Californians in the class of 2009 took the exam, compared with 51,600 five years ago. Nearly three in 10 met benchmarks in all four content areas -- English, math, social studies and science -- that predict that they will have a 50% chance of earning Bs in corresponding college courses, and a 75% chance of receiving at least a C, according to the organization. The scores vary dramatically among subject areas, with 73% of test takers predicted to be ready for a college level composition class, compared with 33% for college level biology.

California students did better than their peers in other states, but all groups' achievement levels show that educators have much work to do in ensuring that students are college ready, ACT officials said.

“While there are certainly encouraging signs, the data overwhelmingly point to the need for continued improvement in our education system,” said Cynthia B. Schmeiser, president and chief operating officer of ACT’s education division. “Collectively, we all have an obligation and a responsibility to do everything within our power to make sure our nation’s students are better prepared for college and work upon graduation. Our students, schools, districts, states and nation cannot afford otherwise.”

O'Connell added that the persistent gap between the scores of white and Asian students and their Latino and African American peers is unacceptable.

This achievement gap "is leaving far too many of our students of color behind their peers," he said. "From an economic, social and moral perspective, we simply cannot afford to allow these gaps to persist. We must effectively prepare all of our students to meet the challenges they will face in the increasingly competitive global economy."

The ACT has long been popular in the Midwest, while the rival SAT is dominant on the coasts. The SAT still has far greater market share in California, with more than 205,100 students in the class of 2008 here taking that three-part exam. SAT results for the class of 2009 will be released next week.

-- Seema Mehta