Idaho ACT scores improve slightly

Idaho’s scores on the ACT improved slightly in 2019, and topped national averages.

But the scores mean only so much, since only about a third of Idaho students take the test.

The ACT is one of several college placement exams available to high school students, and all Idaho students need to take one of these exams in order to graduate high school. But the ACT is not Idaho’s college entrance exam of choice. Since Idaho high school juniors can take the SAT during the school day — and at taxpayer expense — most high school students opt for that test. Idaho’s ACT cohort tends to be much smaller, and skews toward higher-achieving and college-bound students.

That was certainly the case for this year’s graduating class. Forty-six percent of Idaho’s ACT test-takers said they plan to pursue a bachelor’s degree while 37 percent plan to seek an advanced degree — numbers that far exceed Idaho’s stubbornly low college go-on rates. Idaho is investing tens of millions of dollars to try to encourage more high school graduates to continue their education.

The latest ACT numbers should contribute to a continuing discussion of college readiness, state superintendent Sherri Ybarra said in a news release Wednesday. “Nearly one third of Idaho high school students chose to take the ACT, and they outperformed their peers across the nation.”

The Idaho numbers

ACT, an Iowa City, Iowa-based nonprofit, released scores Wednesday for the class of 2019, including the 6,392 Idaho students who took the test. Here are the new Idaho numbers, and year-to-year comparisons.

2019 2018
Percent of graduates tested 31 36
Average composite score 22.5 22.3
Average English score 21.9 21.9
Average reading score 23.4 23.2
Average math score 21.9 21.6
Average science score 22.2 22.1

A perfect score on any section of the ACT is 36.

The ACT also assigns college-readiness benchmarks to the test scores. Here, Idaho scores vary widely. For example, 73 percent of graduates hit the benchmark in English, while 47 percent met the threshold in science. And while 35 percent of Idaho graduates met all four subject benchmarks, 21 percent of graduates hit none of the benchmarks.

Demographic gaps were fairly wide. White graduates posted an average score of 23, while Hispanic graduates averaged 19.4 and American Indian graduates averaged 17.3.

The national context

Across the board, the Idaho scores exceeded the national numbers.

For example, the national average score was 20.7, but that’s based on a much larger test sample. Fifty-two percent of American graduates took the test.

ACT warns against making sweeping comparisons — and recommends only comparing states with similar percentages of test-takers. In that context, Idaho’s scores were mediocre. Idaho’s scores are identical to Indiana’s scores and slightly above Maryland’s scores, while Illinois, Colorado and the District of Columbia all scored higher.

Kevin Richert

About Kevin Richert

Senior reporter and blogger Kevin Richert specializes in education politics and education policy. He has more than 30 years of experience in Idaho journalism. He is a frequent guest on KIVI 6 On Your Side; "Idaho Reports" on Idaho Public Television; and "Idaho Matters" on Boise State Public Radio. Follow Kevin on Twitter: @KevinRichert. He can be reached at [email protected]

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