08/18/2011 09:52 am ET Updated Oct 17, 2011

Illinois ACT Scores Lower Than National Average, But Show Improvement

Graduating high school seniors in Illinois may post ACT test scores that are still be behind the national average, but they have also shown gradual improvement over previous years according to data released Wednesday.

According to the Chicago Sun-Times, the state's overall composite score in 2011 was 20.9 (out of a maximum score of 36). Last year's high was 20.7, while the national average is 21.1. Further, the state's score is the highest among the states that require all high school seniors take the exam.

The bad news, however, is that only 23 percent of graduating Illinois seniors met the "college readiness" standards in all four of the ACT's subject areas: English, reading, math and science. Science scores are particularly pulling that number down, the Sun-Times reports.

But as Whet Moser over at Chicago magazine points out, defining "college-ready" is not as simple as it may seem. Moser argues that the ACT's measure of higher education readiness sets a somewhat arbitrarily high bar, one that's susceptible to considerable editorial spin:

[It's] a squishy concept. "If all Illinois high school graduates went to college, three-quarters would be unlikely to make it through freshman year without a D, depending on what college they go to" is a bit more to the point.

Nevertheless, U.S. Secretary of Education, and former Chicago Public Schools chief, Arne Duncan described the ACT's findings as "another sign that states need to raise their academic standards and commit to education reforms that accelerate student achievement," the Chicago Tribune reports.

In a separate writing test, according to the Tribune, Illinois students again fared just worse than the national average, scoring a 6.9 on the 12-point test, 0.2 points lower than the rest of the country's average.

Photo by albertogp123 via Flickr.