Minnesota's high school students are again tops in the nation on the ACT, the test that gauges how well students are prepared for college.
But big gaps remain in test scores and college readiness between the state's white students and students of color.
For the past nine years Minnesota students have posted the highest average overall score among states where a majority of students take the exam.
The state's students had an average score of 22.9, a tiny slip from the previous year's score of 23, but still nearly two full points higher than the nationwide average, according to an ACT report released Wednesday. The highest possible score is 36.
White students in Minnesota had an average score of 23.7. But the average score for black students was 17.9 — the lowest average among non-white test-takers.
There's also a gap in overall college readiness between white students and student of color. Although 44 percent of white students met college readiness benchmarks in English, math, reading and science, only 10 percent of black students did.
State Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius is happy with the overall results, but said more work remains to be done to improve the results of all students.
"We're proud that we're number one in the nation; that's important," Cassellius said. "Certainly we'll be much more proud when every single one of our students earn a high school diploma and are ready for college or to go right into a career."
A new effort that starts this year aims to improve college readiness for all students.
Students will take tests in 8th grade and 10th grade to see if they're on track to take the ACT. In the spring, all Minnesota high school juniors will take the full ACT, for free. Last year, 76 percent took the test.
The exam will replace a series of tests students were required to pass in order to graduate in recent years.
Casselius calls the switch a game changer.
"It sets the expectation that every student has to have some level of post-secondary in order to earn a living wage in the future and be ready for a career," she said.
The new testing protocol is intended to get more students thinking about what they'll do after high school, said Larry Pogemiller, commissioner of the state Office of Higher Education.
"That doesn't necessarily mean a four-year college," he said. "It could be a two-year or a even a certificate program. But that it's likely that something beyond your high school diploma is going to be necessary."
Pogemiller said helping students, especially students of color, better prepare for college isn't something that should start in the final years of high school.
He said a new state push to place more children into quality pre-school education, and have them reading at grade level by the third grade, will pay off years later when they take those college readiness tests.