August 2005

A periodic newsletter on a single topic of interest published by the Office of Higher Education

ACT Scores Reveal Much About College Readiness

This issue of Insight takes an in-depth look at ACT results for the Minnesota high school students who graduated in 2005. With an average score of 22.3, Minnesota students posted the highest average score in the country among the 25 states where more than half of the graduating students took the ACT.

Minnesota National
High School
1992 21.5 30,291 61% 20.6 832,217
1993 21.6 31,462 62% 20.7 875,603
1994 21.8 31,160 62% 20.8 891,714
1995 21.9 32,136 59% 20.8 945,369
1996 22.1 33,196 59% 20.9 924,663
1997 22.1 35,625 60% 21.0 959,301
1998 22.2 37,100 63% 21.0 995,039
1999 22.1 38,992 64% 21.0 1,019,053
2000 22.0 40,710 66% 21.0 1,065,138
2001 22.1 41,026 66% 21.0 1,069,772
2002 22.1 40,873 65% 20.8 1,116,082
2003 22.0 42,892 67% 20.8 1,175,059
2004 22.2 42,163 66% 20.9 1,171,460
2005 22.3 41,646 68% 20.9 1,186,251
Source: ACT

Minnesota narrowly beat second-ranked Wisconsin this year, where students posted a 22.2 average score. While the top rank gives the state of Minnesota bragging rights for 2005, equally meaningful are the underlying data correlating student preparation and characteristics to test scores. The data indicate that:

  • Students who take rigorous high school courses consistently perform better on the ACT.
  • Minnesota students are not as ready as they could be for college level work, especially in mathematics and science. [ view table ]
  • Dramatic achievement and test participation gaps persist for students of color.

College Readiness
College preparatory classes are positively correlated with high ACT test scores.

Reports 1 | 2 released by ACT emphasize the need for students to take a specific sequence of courses in secondary school to be ready for college and work beyond high school. For over 20 years ACT has recommended that high school students take a certain number of courses in high school to be ready for college. ACT has identified the following courses as contributing most to college readiness and considers these the minimum college preparatory curriculum:

  • English 9-12
  • Algebra 1, geometry, algebra 2, and one (or more) mathematics course such as trigonometry, pre-calculus, or calculus
  • Biology, chemistry, and physics

In addition, ACT found that taking a course such as speech, in addition to English in grades nine through 12, improved students college readiness. Foreign language courses also improved student's English language readiness.

Only 62 percent of Minnesota's 2005 graduates who took the test completed the minimal ACT-recommended high school course sequence. A direct correlation can be made between ACT scores and the number of core college preparatory courses taken by students. [ view table ]

In addition to developing a minimum core curriculum recommended for college-bound students, ACT has also developed college readiness benchmark scores in English, math and science and reading. The benchmark ACT scores suggest that students who reach these score levels have a high probability of earning a "C" or higher (and a 50/50 chance of earning a "B" or higher) in credit-bearing first-year college courses such as English composition, algebra, biology and social sciences. ACT claims that 83 percent of the students who entered college meeting or exceeding ACT's College Readiness Benchmarks returned after their first year [.pdf].

In Minnesota only 29 percent of students scored high enough in all tested subject areas to meet college level readiness for courses in English, social studies, college algebra, and college biology.

Nevertheless, Minnesota students were more college ready than students nationally. Seventy-six percent of Minnesota students who took the ACT earned a "college ready" score as defined by ACT in English composition, compared to 68 percent nationally. Sixty-one percent of Minnesota students were college ready in social science, compared to 51 percent nationally. Fifty-three percent were college ready for college level algebra, compared to 41 percent nationally. And 37 percent were ready for college level biology, compared to 26 percent nationally.

Source: ACT

In Minnesota, students have a variety of college preparation options. In addition to the standard and advanced college preparatory course sequence offered at many public and private high schools, approximately 27 percent of Minnesota high school juniors or seniors participate in one or more of the following programs: Advanced Placement classes, the International Baccalaureate Diploma Program, or the Minnesota Postsecondary Enrollment Options program.

While approximately 65 percent of all Minnesota high school graduates go directly to college the fall following their graduation, not all of them are college ready. According to a jointly published report by the University of Minnesota and the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities [.pdf], about 31 percent take one or more development course while in a Minnesota public post-secondary institution.

The ACT research supports the findings of Cliff Adelman at the National Center for Education Statistics 3:

Postsecondary readiness is not a function of the number of courses taken in a particular discipline. Each incremental college preparatory course taken, particularly in mathematics and science . . . added to readiness more so than the number of courses in a discipline alone.

Participation and Performance by Students of Color
Overall, students of color had lower ACT scores than their white counterparts. [ view table ] Some of the gaps in lower scores were eliminated by students of color if they took the minimum core courses recommended by ACT.

ACT test results of 2005 Minnesota high school graduates by racial/ethnic background and core versus non-core activity

Number of Test Takers Percent Taking Core or More Score for students taking core Score for students taking non-core
All Students41,6466223.020.8
Am Indian2024721.318.6

Note: ACT defines core curriculum as high school courses including 4 years of English and at least 3 years each in social science, mathematics, and natural science. Recent research by ACT shows that it is the rigor of high school courses, rather than the number of courses, that best prepares students for life beyond high school.

Source: ACT

There were large gaps in college readiness in specific subject areas for some racial/ethnic groups. For example, only eight percent of black Minnesota test takers were ready for college level biology, compared to 38 percent of white students. [ view table ]

Other Information on Test Takers
The ACT assessment and student survey reveals a wealth of additional information on 2005 Minnesota test takers. ACT test scores increased with family income. The average composite ACT score for Minnesota students with an estimated family income of less than $18,000 (four percent of test takers) was 19.3. The average composite ACT score for Minnesota students with an estimated family income over $100,000 (14 percent of test takers) was 24.0.

The University of Minnesota-Twin Cities was listed most often as the institution of first choice for 2005 Minnesota ACT test takers. The University of Minnesota-Twin Cities was followed by the University of Minnesota-Duluth, St. Cloud State University, Minnesota State University, Mankato, Winona State University and Minnesota State University Moorhead. Student choices correlate closely to enrollment at these public institutions in Minnesota.

The University of St. Thomas was the first choice among private colleges for 2005 Minnesota ACT test takers. North Dakota State University was the first choice among out-of-state colleges for 2005 Minnesota ACT test takers, followed by the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of North Dakota.

Among 2005 Minnesota test takers:

  • 50 percent took the test in their junior year.
  • 382 were home schooled and had an average score of 23.5 compared to 22.3 for all Minnesota test-takers.
  • 79 percent said they would need financial aid.
  • 68 percent said they would need to work while in college.
  • 41 percent aspired to a bachelor's degree.
  • 4 percent indicated they would attend a two-year college and one percent said they would seek vocational/technical study.

Comparisons with Neighboring States
Minnesota's average 22.3 ACT score led the nation. Minnesota was followed by Wisconsin (22.2) and Iowa (22.0). Among Minnesota's other neighbors, South Dakota ranked 8th with an average state score of 21.5 and North Dakota ranked 13th with an average score of 21.3. Minnesota and Wisconsin tied for the top spot in 2004.

Only about 25 states had 50 percent or more of their high school graduates take the ACT assessment. These states are concentrated in the Midwest, rocky mountains, plains and southern regions of the country.
[ view table | view map (.doc)]

Minnesota ACT Scores Improved in all Subject Areas
Minnesota's average test scores improved slightly in all subject areas-English, mathematics, reading, and science-from the previous year. Minnesota's scores were from 1.2 to 1.5 points higher than the national average in all subject areas. [ view table ]

About the Test
Approximately two-thirds, or 68 percent, of Minnesota high school graduates in 2005 took the assessment. The number of Minnesota test takers decreased from 42,163 in 2004 to 41,646 in 2005 but the percentage increased from 66 percent in 2004. Some students took the test in their junior year, some took it during their senior year and some took it in both years or twice in one academic year. For students who took the test multiple times, only the most recent score was included in this analysis.

The ACT assessment helps colleges determine how well students are prepared for college. Colleges use the ACT scores for student admissions, advising, and placement. Minnesota's state universities generally require a score of 21 or higher for admission. The highest possible ACT score is 36 and eight Minnesota students achieved a perfect score. The ACT assessment reveals helpful information only about the 68 percent of aspiring college students in Minnesota high schools who took the test. It reveals nothing about the 32 percent of high school graduates who never took the test. Some states, including Wyoming, Mississippi and Illinois require all (or nearly all) of their high school seniors to take the assessment.

The ACT results are more representative of Minnesota than the SAT. Only about 10 percent of Minnesota college bound seniors take the SAT, compared to 46 percent nationally. Minnesota students taking the SAT are typically applying to selective out-of-state colleges. ACT releases only national and selected state data. For local school or district information, contact the school district. For more information about ACT, visit


  1. ACT. (2005) Courses Count: Preparing Students for Postsecondary Success. Iowa City, IA. ACT Policy Report. [ back ]
  2. ACT. (2004) Crisis at the Core: Preparing All Students for College and Work. Iowa City, IA. [ back ]
  3. Adelman, C. (1999). Answers in the toolbox: Academic intensity, attendance patterns, and bachelor's degree attainment. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education. [ back ]

About the Office of Higher Education

The Office of Higher Education is a state agency providing students with financial aid programs and information to help them gain access to post-secondary education. The agency serves as the state's clearinghouse for data, research and analysis on post-secondary enrollment, financial aid, finance and trends.

The Minnesota State Grant program, which is administered by the agency, is a need-based tuition assistance program for Minnesota students. The agency also oversees tuition reciprocity programs, a student loan program, Minnesota's 529 college savings program, licensing and an early awareness outreach initiative for youth. Through collaboration with systems and institutions, the agency assists in the development of the state's education technology infrastructure and shared library resources.


College Readiness

Participation and Performance by Students of Color

Other Information on Test Takers

Comparisons with Neighboring States

Minnesota ACT Scores Improved in all Subject Areas

About the Test



College Prep Activity of Minnesota High School Students

Participation Rates of Minnesota High School Graduates


2005 ACT Minnesota Results [.ppt]

2005 ACT National Results [.ppt]

ACT, Courses Count: Preparing Students for Postsecondary Success [.pdf]

ACT, Crisis at the Core: Preparing All Students for College and Work

Achieve, The expectations gap: A 50-state review of high school graduation requirements [.pdf]

The Education Trust, A common core curriculum for the new century [.pdf]

Educational Testing Service, Standards for what? The economic roots of K-16 reform [.pdf]

Minnesota State Colleges and Universities and the University of Minnesota, Getting prepared: A 2005 report on recent high school graduates who took developmental/remedial courses [.pdf]


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Alexandra Djurovich
Research and Policy Analyst

Barb Schlaefer
Director of Communications