Nebraska’s 2017 high school graduates scored higher than the national average on the ACT, but less than a third of those students met all four benchmarks that indicate they’ll be successful as college freshmen.

The state's composite score of 21.4 on the college preparatory test is unchanged from last year, despite nearly 400 more students taking the test.

Nebraska was among 20 states where 80 percent or more of 2017 graduates took the ACT. Among those states, only Minnesota, South Dakota and Illinois had equal or higher composite scores.

The test has four sections: English, math, reading and science reasoning. The national average remained at 21. A perfect score is 36.

Nebraska Education Commissioner Matt Blomstedt said while he’s pleased Nebraska’s composite score remains higher than the national average, it’s also important to look at the much smaller percentage of students who score below the college benchmarks.

“It has to be about us using this information to improve the outcome of our students,” Blomstedt said.

He hopes work already underway will help, including making updated academic standards more rigorous, and the state’s intervention in low-performing schools to help them improve.

For the first time, all public school juniors took the ACT in April as part of a new state law requiring a college admission test replace statewide tests.

As a result, the state will have more access to data from ACT, Blomstedt said, and they can look more closely at gaps in performance by subgroups of students, including racial minorities.

Composite scores for African-American students in Nebraska was 17.6; Native students was 17.9; and Hispanic students was 18.3. That compares with composite scores of 22.4 for white students and 21.6 for Asian students.

Overall, just 28 percent of Nebraska students met benchmarks in all four subject areas. Nationally, just 27 percent hit all four benchmarks.

Sixty-seven percent of Nebraska students hit the college benchmark in English, 50 percent in reading, 42 percent in math and 41 percent in science.

While half of white students in Nebraska and 43 percent of Asian students hit three or more of the college benchmarks, just 13 percent of African-American students, 17 percent of Native students and 18 percent of Hispanic students did.

State officials are looking closely at ACT’s college benchmarks as they decide where to set the "cut scores" — the point at which students are considered proficient in a subject.

“This is the first time the ACT data has become very important to us in a policy sense,” Blomstedt said.

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