Hawaii saw a slight increase in the percentage of high school students meeting college readiness benchmarks on the ACT last year, but still posted the lowest average composite scores in the nation, according to a report released Wednesday.

The results are for tests taken by members of the class of 2015 in their junior year — the second year in a row that 11th-graders in Hawaii public schools were required to take the ACT, one of two major national college entrance exams. The test is part of Hawaii’s Strive HI accountability system.

Of the 10,304 public high school juniors who took the test in 2014, 39 percent met college readiness benchmarks in English, up from 36 percent in 2013. The state also saw 1 to 3 percentage point increases in the number of students meeting benchmarks for math, science and reading.


A record 93 percent of public and private school students in the 11th grade took the ACT college entrance exam in Hawaii in 2014.

Courtesy of ACT


“The improvements affirm our focus on supporting all students for success after high school,” Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi said in a press release. “A sustained focus on college and career readiness is showing results for our students. We’re very pleased to see steady progress.”

Despite the increases, only 10 percent of public school test-takers in Hawaii were deemed college-ready in all four subjects, according to the Department of Education.

The benchmark scores indicate the minimum level of subject knowledge that ACT believes students need in order to have a 50 percent chance of achieving a B grade or higher in an entry level college course in that subject and a 75 percent chance of earning a C or higher.

Another way of breaking down the test scores is to look at the state’s average composite score, which is the number test-takers get when their answers in all four subject areas — English, reading, math and science — are averaged together. A perfect ACT score is 36.

The average composite score for all juniors who took the test in Hawaii was 18.5, according to the “Conditions of College & Career Readiness 2015” report released by ACT on Wednesday — the lowest in the nation. The average score for public school students was 17.5. The national average was 21.

The University of Hawaii at Manoa requires a minimum composite score of 22 for admission.

Because Hawaii is one of only about a dozen states that mandates students take the college entrance exam, in some ways a national comparison is unfair. Nationwide, 57 percent of students took the ACT and that figure drops as low as 10 percent in Maine and 19 percent in Rhode Island. If only students who want to gain admission to a competitive college are taking the test, then that state’s average scores are likely to be higher than in a state where all students sit for the exam.

But in the 16 states where at least 93 percent of students took the test, Hawaii still fell short in both the average composite score and the percentage of students meeting benchmarks in each subject.

Only Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama (all three of which tested 100 percent of students) had fewer students meeting math benchmarks. In Hawaii 21 percent of all test-takers were deemed college ready in science, the second-lowest percentage in the nation after Mississippi.

A report released earlier this year by Hawaii P-20 showed a decline in the percentage of local graduates needing to take remedial classes after entering the UH system, said P-20 Executive Director Karen Lee.

“We do feel positive about the trend,” Lee said, adding that there is still a lot of work that still needs to be done.

Students don’t need to meet benchmarks in all subjects to make good grades in college. According to the ACT report, research has shown that students who score well in at least three subjects, are “likely to be successful in a postsecondary education.”

By that measurement, 24 percent of students in Hawaii’s class of 2015, had the odds in their favor.

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