ACT scores dip slightly

By Dee O'Neal

Consistent with a nationwide trend, ACT scores for NIU’s 1989-90 freshman class dipped slightly but remain significantly higher than state and national averages.

Nationwide ACT scores slipped to a five year low of 18.6 out of a possible 36 points. SAT scores nationwide declined one point to 903 out of a possible 1600 points.

ACT results in Illinois dropped from 18.9 to 18.8, two tenths of a percentage point above the national average. SAT scores in Illinois dropped from 984 to 982, still 79 points above the national average.

At NIU, ACT composite scores for the 1989-90 freshman class were 21.44, about three tenths of a point lower than last year’s aveage score of 21.71.

Over the past 15 years, ACT scores at NIU have ranged from a low of 20.23 in 1977 to a high of 21.71 in 1988. On the whole, a review of NIU ACT test results shows a gradual increase in the “mean” score, from the mid-20’s to 21.5 or above.

Officials at NIU’s Office of Testing Services did not supply data on SAT scores because NIU uses only ACT scores for purposes of admission unless the applicant lives out of state.

However, the Testing Office did supply information on the high school class rank of incoming freshmen. Freshmen have consistently ranked in the upper one-third of their high school graduating class. This year’s freshman class had a mean high school rank of 71.85, ranking them higher than 29 percent of their classmates.

The all-time high class rank was last year, when NIU freshman had an average class rank of 74.04. This meant that the average NIU freshman ranked in the top quarter of his or her high school graduating class.

Men outscored women on both the math and verbal sections of the ACT and SAT tests. Afro-Americans taking the ACT and SAT continue to gradually improve their scores, but are substantially lower than white students. Average ACT scores for Afro-Americans are 13.6 and 737 for the SAT, about 200 points below the scores of white students.

Norman Gilbert, director of Testing Services at NIU, reported his office does not keep track of ACT scores by race, gender or ethnic group. However, in regard to the gender differences in test results, Gilbert conjectured that lower women’s scores in math might be related to the number and difficulty of the math courses they took in high school.

“Many people think of the ACT and SAT tests as strictly aptitude tests, something along the lines of an IQ test for college entrance,” Gilbert said. These tests can be more accurately described as “developed ability” exams than straight-forward aptitude tests.

“‘Developed ability’ is a combination of your personal aptitude and the extent to which you have developed that aptitude. You do have to have a certain amount of factual knowledge to do well on these exams,” Gilbert explained.

In regard to low nationwide scores for Afro-Americans, Gilbert said that society “must continue to do everything it can to help eradicate the disadvantaged environment that leads to lower test scores.” Gilbert added that the NIU CHANCE program is an attempt to respond to that need.

Gilbert also said the ACT test NIU students took has undergone a “major” revision. “The ACT test that we are familiar with was first put together in 1959. That’s 30 years ago,” Gilbert said.

Gilbert said the committee that writes the exam realized that it was time for a “total overhaul” of the exam in order to “make it consistent with today’s high school curriculum.” The science “reading” exam has been replaced with a science “reasoning” exam, Gilbert said. He also said a regular reading exam has been added because “more and more we are recognizing the correlation between being able to read well and doing well in college level studies.”

Gilbert said the new exam, which will be given for the first time in October, will be neither harder nor easier, only “fairer.”

“More and more we are recognizing the correlation between being able to read well and doing well in college level studies.

Norman Gilbert, director of Testing Services