Mississippi's ACT college entrance exam scores are up slightly this year and gaining on the national average.
The average test score for all 2002 public, private and home schooled graduating high school seniors in the state was 18.6 on a 1 to 36 scale. Last year's score was 18.5.
State Superintendent of Education Henry Johnson said Mississippi gained two-tenths of a point on the national average, which fell from 21 to 20.8.
"It seems the trend line is heading in the right direction,'' Johnson said. "The nation did drop. Even without that drop, Mississippi student performance still increased.''
Johnson, and other state education officials were scheduled to discuss the state's test results at a news conference Wednesday. One area of concern is the decline in students taking core courses for college preparation, said assistant higher education commissioner Pamela Smith.
The number of students who take the ACT and meet the core requirements declined over five years from more than 14,000 students to 12,491 this year.
"Generally our concern is people aren't taking the core in the same number they used to,'' Smith said. "They are not coming prepared even if they do take the core.''
Johnson said Mississippi tests the highest percentage of students in the nation, with the exception of a few states that require the ACT. In Mississippi, 84 percent of the graduating class - a total 23,395 students - took the test.
Johnson said the high number of students who take the test in the state tends to lower the mean score. He said the state's new assessment standards should help the state's ACT scores continue to rise.
"The real test is to see what happens over time,'' Johnson said. "As time goes on and we review and learn more, we will likely see fit to revise and make more rigorous curriculum.''
The ACT is designed to test a student's ability in English, math, reading and science. Used with a student's grade point average, it's intended to be a predictor of first-year college performance.