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Modest gains for some city students on college-entrance exam

New data on the increasingly popular ACT college-entrance exam show that city students’ scores have risen to meet the national average, but the gains are spotty.

Since 2005, the average city student’s score has crept from 19.9 to 21.4 — a modest gain, but one that carries weight on an exam that’s only 36 points in total. The bulk of the progress has come from the city’s Asian and white students, while black students’ scores have risen slightly. Hispanic students’ average scores have shown little change, dropping by a third of a point.

In the last five years, the number of New York City students taking the ACT — a test that measures mastery of high school curriculum and predicts college readiness — has risen from about 1,500 to over 5,000.

To measure whether students are ready for college-level work, the ACT’s makers set cut off scores. If a student scores at or above a certain point, colleges can assume that she won’t need remedial help. In 2010, black and Hispanic students’ average scores on all four tests — reading, English, math, and science — fell below the benchmarks.

White students’ average scores easily cleared all of the cut offs, except on the science test, where they fell short. Asian students exceeded the benchmarks on all four exams.

Nationally, high schoolers’ scores have stagnated and less than 25 percent of 2010 graduates who took the test scored high enough to meet the college-readiness benchmarks.

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