Idaho ACT scores unchanged from 2017

Idaho’s ACT scores were virtually unchanged from 2017.

And once again, barely a third of Idaho’s high school graduates took the college-placement exam. As a result, it’s difficult to compare Idaho’s scores with the national average, or scores from other states.

The ACT released its 2018 scores Wednesday — days after the Republican candidates for governor and state schools superintendent have tried to score political points off of the Idaho scores.

The scores

Idaho’s average ACT score came in at 22.3, the same as 2017.

A perfect score on the ACT is 36.

The Iowa City-Iowa based ACT also released benchmark scores for the test’s four sections. Students who hit a benchmark score are considered college-ready.

Idaho’s 2018 benchmark scores also were virtually unchanged:

  • English: 73 percent, unchanged.
  • Reading: 58 percent, unchanged.
  • Math: 49 percent, down from 50 percent in 2017.
  • Science: 46 percent, up from 45 percent in 2017.

What do the scores mean?

Only so much.

Only 36 percent of Idaho’s graduating class of 2018 took the ACT. That’s a small sample, and it skews toward college-bound students — and students who might take the ACT specifically to apply to a school that requires the test.

By comparison, 55 percent of U.S. graduates took the ACT.

In its own literature, the ACT cautions against reading too much into the scores, or making too many comparisons.

“The best practice is to compare states where the same or similar percentages of graduates were tested,” the ACT said in a two-page summary of state-by-state scores.

For the record, Idaho’s scores come in above the national average of 20.8. Idaho’s average score ranks No. 19 nationally.

The politics of test scores

During a debate Friday night, broadcast statewide on Idaho Public Television, incumbent state superintendent Sherri Ybarra said she’d seen embargoed ACT scores. She wouldn’t divulge details, but she said Idahoans would be “pleasantly surprised” by the numbers.

Three days later, in the same studio, Lt. Gov. Brad Little took his turn touting ACT scores. The gubernatorial candidate said Idaho students outperformed their peers in neighboring states.

That’s true for 2018 — but it’s an apples-to-oranges comparison, the very kind the test’s designers caution against. In four neighboring states — Montana, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming — 100 percent of graduates completed the ACT.

Sixteen states require all high school students to take the ACT; another three states fund the ACT on an optional basis.

In Idaho, meanwhile, the SAT is the state’s college entrance exam of choice.

Nearly 20,000 high school juniors take the SAT at state expense each April. The state fronts the cost of SAT Day, roughly $1 million, in hopes of encouraging more high school students to consider college. The free SAT also helps students fulfill a graduation requirement: Every high school student must take a college-entrance exam.


Kevin Richert

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 "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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