SALT LAKE CITY — Utah's high school students earned the highest ACT scores in the nation in 2013 when compared with states where all students take the test, according to figures released Wednesday by the State Office of Education.
Utah's average composite score held steady from 2012 at 20.7, despite an additional 1,700 students taking the test this year. Nationally, the average ACT score fell from 21.1 to 20.9.
For the past two years, Utah has operated a pilot program encouraging ACT participation by all students. The implementation of that program coincided with a one-year increase of 7,674 students taking the test in 2012, which resulted in the state's average score falling from 21.8 to 20.7, according to ACT data.
Education officials said a decline was expected since proficient students typically self-select to take the ACT in states where participation is not universal. A bill passed by lawmakers this year funded the ongoing use of the ACT as an assessment of college and career readiness for all high school students.
Last year, Utah's average score was the second-highest of 10 states where more than 95 percent of students took the test. The new figures for 2013 show Utah jumping to the lead of that pack, followed by Illinois with an average score of 20.6 and Colorado with a score of 20.4
"What this data says to me is that when you compare Utah’s results with states that have comparable participation, Utahns are getting an extraordinary return on their investment in public education," State Superintendent of Public Instruction Martell Menlove said in a prepared statement. "Utah students, their teachers and their parents can be proud of these results."
Utah's ACT figures also show increased participation from all racial groups and an improvement over 2012 in the average score for black and Hispanic students, whose scores increased from 16.9 to 17 and 17.5 to 17.6, respectively.
The average score for Pacific Islander students in Utah fell from 17.2 to 16.8, with American Indian and Asian student scores also falling from 16.4 to 16.1 and 20.9 to 20.7, respectively.
John Jesse, director of assessments for the State Office of Education, said those declines can be partly attributed to the increased number of test takers, as well as a new calculating system used by the ACT that includes students who receive extended time to take the test.
"I think it’s the right thing to do, and it’s a great thing," he said of the more-inclusive calculation. "ACT numbers look good this year. I’m pleased."
Because the ACT does not gather individual student data, the calculation does not necessarily reflect the performance of each unique student in the state but instead aggregates district and school performance, Jesse said.
The percentage of students who took the ACT this year is not quite 100 percent, he said, but it will be 100 percent beginning this year as a result of the bill passed by lawmakers.