Minnesota has highest ACT scores, but gaps between races remain

For the 10th year in a row Minnesota students lead the nation in one measure of college readiness.

Minnesota students have the highest average ACT scores among states where a majority of students take the test, according to a report released Wednesday.

But behind those scores is mixed news for some of the state's students. More students of color are taking the ACT, but their test scores lag behind white students'.

Minnesota's 2015 graduating seniors scored an average of 22.7 on their ACTs, two-tenths of a point lower than last year.

Create a More Connected Minnesota

MPR News is your trusted resource for the news you need. With your support, MPR News brings accessible, courageous journalism and authentic conversation to everyone - free of paywalls and barriers. Your gift makes a difference.

That small shift downward doesn't worry state Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius because it comes as more students are taking the test. This year, 1,500 more students took the test and a higher percentage of test-takers were students of color.

"Being able to show stable scores with a one-tenth or two-tenths of a percent of change with increasing enrollment is very significant in showing that we're able to sustain this high performance level for many, many years," Cassellius said.

Minnesota also leads the nation in overall college preparedness — 39 percent of students meet college readiness benchmarks in English, reading, math and science exams.

"But that means 61 percent were not totally prepared yet. So I think that means we have some work to do there," said Larry Pogemiller, commissioner of Minnesota's Office of Higher Education.

Pogemiller says the state must do a better job of preparing students of color for college. The gap between white students and students of color is sizable — 62 percent of white students meet three or more college readiness benchmarks, while only 17 percent of African American students hit that number.

This year, the state funded an effort to offer all of the state's juniors the ACT for free, at their schools, on one day in April. It was even added as a high school graduation requirement.

But lawmakers made a change to that program during this year's special session. Next year districts will pay for the test for any student who asks for it, then request a reimbursement from the state.

Rep. Sondra Erickson, R-Princeton, who chairs a House education committee at the State Capitol, says that will require districts, and parents, to push students to take the ACT.

"The onus is on them and that's probably where it should be. I don't think the Legislature should have to mandate this and then turn schools into a day of testing and send everybody else someplace else," Erickson said.

The ACT scores of the juniors who took the ACT for free this year will show up in next year's national figures.