Savannah Martin

Savannah Martin and other juniors at Billings West High School take the ACT in 2014.

CASEY PAGE, Gazette Staff

Montana students who graduated high school in 2017 performed about on par with their peers on ACT tests, a national college readiness test that Montana gives to all juniors. 

Montana was tied for fifth among 17 states who tested all their juniors in 2016, with an average score of 20.3. The score differs from scores previously reported by the state, as the scores encompass only graduates, not all students tested as juniors.

The score is about on par with regional peers — Wyoming, which tests all juniors, scored 20.2. North Dakota, which tested 98 percent of juniors, scored 20.3. ACT scores are reported on a 36-point scale.

Montana State University students have a 25.4 average score. The University of Montana lists a score of 22 as a "primary requirement" for admission.

Among states that tested all students, scores loosely correlate with the child poverty rate. Montana's scores are about average with the trend. A handful of states stand out, like Mississippi, with a score of 20.4 despite a 31 percent child poverty rate, or Wyoming, with a score of 20.2 with only an 11 percent child poverty rate. 

"Underserved learners (low-income, minority, and/or first-generation college students) continue to struggle in terms of their achievement levels and readiness for college," a report released by the ACT company says. "Less than a fourth of graduates who qualify as underserved met or surpassed three or four of the ACT College Readiness Benchmarks, compared to more than half of ACT-tested graduates who are not underserved."

A long-held achievement gap between Native American and white students persisted; Native American students averaged a score of 16, while white students averaged 20.8. 

Girls outperformed boys in reading and English, with 8 and 12 percent more girls hitting college-ready benchmarks in the topics. But three and two percent more boys hit benchmarks in math and science. For both sexes, 23 percent of students hit benchmarks in all four subjects. 

The report also released data on students who met benchmark scores — scores that indicate students are ready for college. Montana students ranked 10th in English among the 17 states that tested all students, with 55 percent meeting the benchmark. Montana excelled in reading, ranking third with 44 percent of students meeting the benchmark. Students ranked fourth in math with 37 percent meeting the benchmark, and ranked seventh in science, with 33 percent of students meeting the benchmark. 

States that test fewer students generally had higher scores, as college-bound students are more likely to take the test. For example, New Hampshire had the highest average score in the nation at 25.5, but tested only 18 percent of students — the second lowest. 

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Education Reporter

Education reporter for the Billings Gazette.