do well on
'We feel it's just a goodBy Helen Altonn
reflection of the state as a
whole,' says an education
Hawaii high school students headed for college are continuing to score ahead of national averages in three of four American College Testing program areas.
The composite score for Hawaii's college-bound public and private school students was the same as last year -- 21.6 out of a maximum 36.
With more students taking the test this year, "we feel it's just a good reflection of the state as a whole," Department of Education spokesman Greg Knudsen said today.
The national average was 21.0 for one million high school students taking exams measuring their English, math, reading and science skills.
Nationally, students ended the 1990s with the highest 10-year gain ever in the average score of the college entrance exam, according to a report released today.
Hawaii students scored ahead of the national average in reading, science reasoning and especially in math, Knudsen said.
Hawaii scores were 22.7 in math, compared with a national average of 20.7; 21.5 in reading, compared with 21.4 , and 21.4 in science, compared with 21.0.
The troublesome area, as in past years, is English. Hawaii students scored 20.3, slightly below the national average of 20.5. They pulled ahead of last year's score of 20.2 in English, but matched the English score for Hawaii students in 1995.
Results overall show Hawaii students "are maintaining a high level of performance," said Selvin Chin-Chance, DOE specialist in the test development section.
"It's encouraging, because since we started keeping track of scores, the number of students taking the test has increased dramatically."
The number is up from 1,602 in 1995 and 2,358 last year to 2,583 this year.
There is a tendency for scores to decline substantially with large increases in the number taking the tests, Chin-Chance said. "We don't see that happening."
The ACT participation rate this year -- 18 percent of Hawaii's high school seniors -- compares to 36 percent across the nation.
Most students -- about 54 percent to 55 percent -- request the College Board SAT admissions test based on the colleges they're applying to, Chin-Chance said.
But the DOE has noticed an increasing number of colleges accepting both ACT and SAT scores, he said.
The ACT Assessment is used for college and university admissions to examine the general educational development of high school students and their ability to complete college-level work. The SAT tests only verbal and math skills.
Students who take academically challenging courses generally have higher ACT scores, according to analyses. In Hawaii, the DOE noted, 69 percent of students who took the ACT were enrolled in challenging courses, compared to 60 percent lin the nation as a whole.
This year's national average score is the same as last year when 995,000 students took the test, said the testing organization, based in Iowa City, Iowa. But 10 years ago, in 1989, the nation's average composite score was 20.6.
During the 1960s, national scores decreased on average a full point; in the 1970s, the average score fell an additional 1.3 points.
Scores didn't begin to rise until the '80s, and then by just one-tenth of a point over the decade.
Educators praised the 1990s increases because scores usually decline as test participation rises, but the number of students taking the test has grown by nearly 200,000 since the beginning of the decade.
"This combination of trends _ more students preparing for college while achieving higher entrance-exam scores _ should be welcomed by those concerned about American education," ACT President Richard L. Ferguson said in a statement.
The ACT report -- which also surveys what courses college-bound seniors are taking and what careers they plan -- reflects the skills of 36 percent of the nation's estimated 2.3 million high school graduates, and 60 percent of America's entering college freshmen.
The test is one of two major entrance examinations. Results from the other, the SAT, will be released later this month.
The ACT is given mainly in Western and Southern states.
Of the states where more than half of graduating seniors take the test, the highest average composite scores were in Wisconsin (22.3), Minnesota (22.1) and Iowa (22).
The highest score average overall was in Rhode Island (22.7 with 3 percent of high school graduates tested); the lowest scores were in the District of Columbia (18.6, with 13 percent of graduates tested). Mississippi, which had the highest share of ACT test-takers at 82 percent, had the second-lowest average score (18.7).
Ferguson said performance overall is improving because more students took higher-level courses in subjects covered by the ACT. Ten years ago, 46 percent of the test-takers reported preparing themselves for college with the appropriate classes; this year, 63 percent of the test-takers have taken the core courses.
However, the test scores indicate that less than half of students are prepared for college classes. Typically students who score under 16 points on any part of the ACT will need extra help in their freshman year.
Even scores up to 19 suggest a minimal readiness, Ferguson said.
For example, on the ACT English test, 48 percent of students this year scored 21 points or higher, indicating they are ready to do well in college composition courses; 47 percent scored 22 points or higher on the reading test, meaning they will be prepared for entry-level history or psychology courses.
The report also indicates that:
Few students were choosing to become computer majors even though there is strong job growth in that field and this is the computer-literate generation heading to college, with laptop computers considered essential equipment on many campuses. Just 4 percent picked computer and information science up from 3 percent.
Most students (19.2 percent) prefer health science fields; less than 10 percent want to pursue education despite looming teacher shortages in many districts.
The gender gap has closed to its closest point ever, but the boys' average score slipped a tenth of a point, from 21.2 to 21.1, while the average score for girls held steady at 20.9.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.