More Md., Va. students taking ACT for college entrance, data show

Freshmen descend on Washington area's universities in a blur of motion as they haul in their can't-live-without dorm paraphernalia and meet their fellow students. For one family, American University is now home to three sisters.
By Michael Birnbaum
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 19, 2010

An increasing number of Maryland and Virginia high school students are taking the ACT college entrance test in a region where the SAT has long been dominant, according to data released Wednesday.

In Virginia this year, 22 percent of high school seniors who graduated took the ACT at some point in school, up from 19 percent in 2009, according to the state Department of Education.

This year's SAT data have not yet been released. But the percentage of graduating Virginia high school seniors who took the SAT dropped from 73 percent in 2007 to 58 percent in 2009.

In Maryland, the number of graduating seniors who took the ACT grew this year, too, to 11,924 from 11,317 in 2009, the Iowa-based ACT organization reported. The number of seniors taking the SAT dropped slightly from 2008 to 2009, but it remains the state's most widely used test. The number of D.C. students taking the ACT has been flat since 2008.

Nationwide, nearly 1.6 million members of the Class of 2010 took the ACT, up 6 percent from last year.

Many students take both tests. In recent years, college admissions officers have spread the word that either is acceptable.

The ACT's sphere of influence had long been largely in the Midwest, but it began making inroads on the East Coast about a decade ago. The SAT aims to test thinking, while the ACT measures knowledge. The SAT added a writing section in 2005, which may have pushed some students to instead take the ACT, whose writing section is optional.

Virginia's ACT composite scores were up to 22.3 this year out of a maximum 36, compared with 21.9 last year. Maryland composite scores rose to 22.3 from 22.1 in 2009, and D.C. scores increased to 19.8 from 19.4. The national composite average was 21.

The ACT also evaluates college readiness. On that measure, there were gains in the District, Maryland and Virginia as well as across the nation, although troubling racial and ethnic gaps remain. African American and Hispanic students scored lower and were deemed on average less ready for college than their white and Asian American counterparts, according to ACT data.

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