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LSU's Thomas D. Boyd Hall, seen Wednesday, August 19, 2020, on LSU's campus in Baton Rouge, La.

Setting off alarm bells, Louisiana's score on a test of college readiness called the ACT fell for the third consecutive year and is the lowest since 2013, officials said Wednesday.

The latest composite score is 18.7 out of a possible 36 for the class of 2020.

[RELATEDSee average ACT scores by Louisiana school: Which schools performed the best in 2020?]

The results are down from 18.9 last year and 19.3 the year before that.

Louisiana is tied with Oklahoma for 47th in the nation in the latest snapshot.

The state in 2013 began requiring that all high school seniors take the test, not just those who plan to attend college.

The exam measures what students know in math, English, reading and science.

The results show that only 22% of test-takers met the national benchmarks in math; 24% in science; 31% in reading and 49% in English.

State officials often note that Louisiana is one of just 15 states where all high school seniors are required to take the test.

The state is tied for 13th in that category, scoring higher than Mississippi and Nevada.

State Superintendent of Education Cade Brumley said the drop in ACT scores is worth attention.

"What that means is students aren't getting into the colleges they choose," Brumley said. "I think it is something we need to look at and how we flip that trajectory."

Commissioner of Higher Education Kim Hunter Reed also voiced concerns.

"Louisiana is a good example of providing access to all students, but the decline in ACT scores over time is clearly a call to action," Reed said in a statement.

"While ACT scores are not mandated for college acceptance in Louisiana, this year's scores are a clear mandate to us to do better in preparing all students," she said.

"For students to envision themselves succeeding in college it's important for them to achieve scores that support their progress and increase access to scholarships and aid," Reed added. "Expanded access and student success must be our collective goal."

The results also mean that, for the third consecutive year, the number of high school seniors to earned a college-going ACT score – 18 – dropped. Even that score is considered minimal.

For the class of 2020 a total of 52% achieved at least an 18 compared to 54% in 2019 and 59% in 2018.

Also, students earning a 21 or better slipped from 32% this time compared to 33% last year and 36% in 2018.

More than 53,000 students took the test earlier this year.

Scores also fell for students with disabilities, those from low-income families and English learners.

The composite U. S. average is 20.6.

Massachusetts is tops in the nation with an average of 26, with 18% of students there taking the test.

The ACT is part of the criteria for students to earn a state scholarship that pays for tuition and other costs – the Taylor Opportunity Program for Students, or TOPS.

However, both the ACT and SAT have come under fire nationally amid criticism that the exams discriminate against minority students.

Some top colleges have ended the requirement that students earn a certain score on the tests to be admitted. Backers say the ACT is a valid measurement in testing student skills and one that offsets the differences in the quality of high schools nationally.

An LSU official said a student's ACT score is considered as part of an overall evaluation on whether he or she will be admitted.

Brumley made his comments during his report to the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.

The exam is administered by a firm in Iowa City, Iowa.

Students are allowed to take the test multiple times.

Rules vary on whether the last test or highest score is used.

How students fare on a wide range of standardized tests is expected to drop this year since classrooms were closed in mid-March during the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic.

The reliance on virtual learning at the end of the 2019-20 school year as well as the current school year is one of the factors said to be contributing to any decline.


Email Will Sentell at wsentell@theadvocate.com.