Data Release: Average Wisconsin Score the Best in US, National ACT Score Dips

Wisconsin students achieved the highest score of any state where all graduates take the exam, though the score itself stayed flat

October 17, 2018

By Ola Lisowski

A new report shows that the national average ACT exam score fell to 20.8 out of 36 points for the class of 2017, down from 21.0 the prior year. Wisconsin students scored an average of 20.5 out of 36 points, the same as last year but now the best score of any state that tests all of its students. 

The Condition of College and Career Readiness Report is released annually by the makers of the ACT Exam. The massive report breaks down average scores, readiness metrics, achievement gaps, figures by state, and much more.

In Wisconsin, 25 percent of graduates met all four college readiness benchmarks. The average English score was 19.8 out of 36, up from 19.7 last year. That made English the only subject in which the average score improved. According to the college readiness benchmarks, 59 percent of students are ready, the highest of any subject.

Math scores went from 20.4 of 36 down to 20.3 this year, while science scores went from 20.9 to 20.8. Reading scores stayed flat, at 20.6 out of 36 points.

Forty-two percent of students were considered college-ready in reading, while 39 percent were ready in math, and 36 percent in science.

Wisconsin’s students fared well compared to the rest of the Midwest. In the region, only Ohio also tested 100 percent of students. The average score there was 20.3 points out of 26. In Minnesota, 99 percent of students were tested, resulting in an average score of 21.3 points.

In general, the scores were not positive for students nationwide. Math readiness dropped to its lowest level since 2004, with 40 percent of 2018 graduates meeting the math benchmark. The “benchmark” for that subject suggests students would be ready to succeed in a first-year college algebra class. Students’ overall average score on the ACT math section fell to 20.5 out of 36, its lowest level in more than 20 years.

“STEMs future not adding up well for America,” was the takeaway in the ACT’s press release about the data. While student readiness in math increased from the early 2000s to 2012, reaching a peak of 46 percent college readiness that year, preparedness has since fallen.

Achievement gaps between racial and ethnic groups remain a concern. Nationally, Hispanic and African American students lag white and Asian American students in college readiness. Asian American students are the best prepared group as a whole, seeing increases in overall college readiness, while scores for every other racial and ethnic group fell.

Twenty states now test all or almost all of their students on the ACT Exam, up from 17 states last year. According to the data release, 68,000 Wisconsin 2018 graduates took the test. The state of Wisconsin began paying for all high school juniors to take the exam in 2016. In 2014, 73 percent of graduates took the exam. Nationally, 55 percent of 2018 graduates took the exam.

The data report comes several weeks after Wisconsin’s own ACT figures came out. Those numbers differed slightly, representing a single administration of the ACT earlier this year and showing an average score of 19.8 out of 36. Today’s release, by contrast, represents mean scores for the last administration of the ACT for 2018 graduates.