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Alabama student scores inching upward on ACT

MONTGOMERY – Alabama students’ ACT scores are slowly inching upward but they still trail the national average, according to 2008 results released early Wednesday.

Alabama students scored an average 20.4 in 2008, up from 20.3 the previous year. The national average was 21.1 this year, down from 21.2 in 2007. The maximum score is 36.

Ed Colby, spokesman for the Iowa City, Iowa-based ACT, said, “The important way to look at it is we’re seeing growth in English and reading and that’s encouraging, but I would temper that encouraging news with the fact that we have a long way to go.”

The proportion of Alabama students who met reading benchmarks improved from 46 percent to 48 percent while the figure for English increased by one point to 68 percent. However, the percentages in math remain unchanged for the third straight year and science was steady for the second consecutive year.

Gloria Turner, director of Alabama’s Department of Assessment and Accountability, said officials would like to see improvements in math and science scores but there’s still a bright side: At least they didn’t go down.

“We’re pleased. We are testing more students and at the same time increasing our scores, so that’s very positive,” she said. “Any time you test more and the scores go up, that’s wonderful.”

Four years ago 31,548 students took the test in Alabama. Last year 35,590 took it.

ACT officials stress the importance of students enrolling in core curriculum to become better prepared for college work.

“We’ve found that the skills needed for success in work force training programs are comparable to those needed in the first year of college so we urge districts and schools to look into their curricula and make sure that the courses they’re offering are providing students with those essential skills,” Colby said.

The Alabama Board of Education approved a plan earlier this year to toughen requirements for a high school diploma. Starting in 2009, all students will automatically be enrolled to get the state’s Advanced Diploma. Parents can opt their children out to get the Basic Diploma.

That reverses the current practice where all students get the Basic Diploma unless they sign up for the advanced track.

Turner said the higher standards are expected to boost scores on the ACT and other tests as students are forced do more rigorous work.

“We think that will go a long way,” she said.