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More Utah students are taking the ACT, and more are testing ready for college.

But still, only slightly more than one in four Utah students who take the test are considered ready for college and careers, according to ACT college entrance exam data released Wednesday.

Among Utah's high school Class of 2011, about 27 percent of those who took the ACT scored high enough on the math, science, reading and English portions of the test to be considered ready for college and careers. That's higher than the national average and up from 26 percent among Utah's Class of 2010.

"Is Utah doing OK? Well, yes," said John Jesse, director of assessment and accountability at the state Office of Education. "Can Utah do better? Yes."

Overall, Utah's Class of 2011 earned an average score of 21.8 out of 36 on the exam for the fourth year in a row, making Utah one of the nine highest scoring states out of the 27 where at least half of graduates took the ACT. Also, the number of Utah graduates taking the test has increased by 14.3 percent since 2007. The number of Latino graduates — Utah's largest minority group — who take it has skyrocketed by 151 percent since 2007. And the number of Utah test-taking grads who took certain core classes linked to higher ACT scores also has risen.

Still, many are concerned that only 27 percent of grads who took the test scored well enough to be considered college and career ready in all four tested subject areas.

"It's good news anytime we make progress, but from 26 percent to 27 percent demonstrates really that we've got a huge challenge," said Vicki Varela, a spokeswoman for Prosperity 2020, a movement started by Utah's business community aimed at boosting education.

One goal of Prosperity 2020 is that two-thirds of Utah adults have college degrees or skilled trade certificates by 2020. "This just demonstrates how much improvement is necessary to get anywhere near that goal," Varela said.

Elizabeth Hitch, associate commissioner for academic affairs for the Utah System of Higher Education, said it's good news that Utah continues to perform above the national average on the ACT, but that "We still need to do a better job of having students college- and career-ready."

Students who aren't ready for college-level work end up having to take remedial classes. In 2007-08, 20 percent of freshmen attending Utah public colleges and universities had to take at least one remedial class, according to the Utah System of Higher Education.

"It would obviously be much better if they came ready to take those [college] classes from the get-go," Hitch said. "They would progress more quickly toward their degrees."

Officials also continue to be concerned about achievement gaps between the scores and college readiness of white Utah students and minority students.

Forty-eight percent of white Utah test-takers scored ready for college in at least three of four areas, compared with only 22 percent of Latino test-takers — the same gap as last year, though that 22 percent is up from previous years. And white Utah test-takers scored 22.3 overall on the exam compared with 18.9 among Latino test-takers, a gap slightly smaller than last year's and the same as the one in 2009.

Jesse called the gap "unacceptable" but said the ever-increasing number of Latino students taking the test is crucial to closing that gap. He said the ACT can help encourage capable students to go to college.

"College isn't for all students, but there are a lot of students who really aren't sure whether they should be going to college and without some sort of feedback, they may make the wrong decision. It opens doors," Jesse said of the ACT.

State leaders have already been working to try to get more students to take the ACT. About half of Utah high school juniors took the exam for free during the school day last school year as part of a state pilot program in a number of schools. And Jesse said about half of this year's juniors will also get to take the exam for free during the school day as part of the same pilot.

A committee of lawmakers also, earlier this summer, voted to support the concept behind a proposed bill to be sponsored by Sen. Margaret Dayton, R-Orem, that would require Utah schools to give a college admissions test, such as the ACT, to all students. —

How does ACT define career/college readiness?

Students who earn certain scores on the ACT are deemed ready for college and careers. Students who achieve these scores are considered to have a 50 percent chance of earning a B or higher in a corresponding first-year college course or a 75 percent chance of getting a C or higher:

English • 18

Reading • 21

Math • 22

Science • 24