TAMPA — High school graduates in Florida’s Class of 2014 were among the least-prepared for college in the nation, according to a report on ACT test scores released Tuesday.
The national college readiness assessment showed Florida test-takers with an average composite score of 19.6, with 36 being the highest possible score. That put the state above only Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina and Hawaii on the list of the 50 states and the District of Columbia.
Just 19 percent of Florida test-takers met college readiness benchmarks in all four subjects on the ACT — English, reading, math and science.
Those benchmarks specify the minimum score students must earn on each subject test to have a 75 percent chance of earning a grade of C or higher and a 50 percent chance of earning a B or higher in a typical credit-bearing first-year college course in that subject area.
Commissioner of Education Pam Stewart highlighted the increasing number of Florida students taking the test.
“While the 2014 ACT College and Career Readiness Report clearly shows the great news that the number of Florida students taking the ACT is increasing, it also shows we still have work to do to ensure students are ready for success after high school,” she said in a statement.
In Florida, 81 percent of high school graduates took the ACT test. That number was nearly double the 44 percent that took the test 10 years ago, ACT spokesman Ed Colby said.
“When you expand the pool of test-takers that much, you’re going to see lower levels generally of readiness,” he said. “You’re looking at a broader range of student preparation. I wouldn’t be discouraged by that.”
Most public colleges, including the University of South Florida, require incoming freshman to submit scores from either the ACT or the SAT, another college readiness exam. But there is an emerging trend to skip standardized tests, with many experts citing inherent cultural and socioeconomic bias.
The report indicated that the lack of preparation for college reflected in Florida’s scores is also seen nationwide, where just 26 percent of test-takers met benchmarks in all four subjects.
“There’s still a lot of room for growth,” Colby said. “There’s a lot of need for students to take more challenging courses in school to improve their readiness, and for states and schools to continue efforts to improve curriculum and raise the bar on learning standards.”
Nationally, in the English subject area test, where the college readiness benchmark is 18, 64 percent of test-takers met the mark. In Florida, 53 percent did.
On the reading test, with a benchmark of 22, 44 percent met the mark nationally; 38 percent did in Florida. In math, with a benchmark of 22, 43 percent hit that level nationally, 33 percent did in Florida. And in science, with a benchmark of 23, 37 percent met the target nationally, 27 percent did in Florida.
The national and Florida numbers are flat compared to previous years.
The report said that 10 percent of the students who took the test in Florida were one or two points below the benchmark in English, reading and science, meaning there is room for improvement.
“If we can just get more students to take the core curriculum and we improve the rigor of the courses the students are taking, we can dramatically increase the number of students who are ready for college in the years ahead,” said Colby.
The 2014 test results continued to show big differences in readiness among racial and ethnic groups. Nationally, just 11 percent of African-American and 23 percent of Hispanic test-takers met three or more of the college readiness benchmarks, compared with 57 percent of Asian students and 49 percent of white students.
Jon Erickson, ACT president of education and career solutions, said those achievement gaps “can be stubbornly difficult to close,” adding that districts must make sure underserved students receive the same resources and educational opportunities as their peers.
Freshman applicants to college must submit an official test score from the SAT or the ACT.