California high school seniors outperformed their peers nationally in all categories of the ACT college entrance exam this year, according to data released Wednesday.
Nearly a third of 2014 high school seniors in California took the ACT. With a maximum possible score of 36, California's average composite score was 22.3. The national average was 21.
About 29%, or more than 113,700 California students, took the standardized exam, which tested English, math, reading, and science skills. Many universities require it as part of the admissions process, sometimes along with the SAT or instead of that college entrance exam.
ACT, a nonprofit in Iowa that provides tools to measure college and career readiness, says increased participation shows students' greater interest in pursuing higher education.
Fifty-seven percent of all graduating high school seniors across the nation took the test this year. More than 1.84 million students took the test, a 3% bump from 2013 and an 18% increase from 2010.
The vast majority, 86%, of those who took the test aspired to higher education, but based on past trends, not all of them will follow through and enroll in college. For example, 87% of U.S. students who took the ACT exam in 2013 indicated they wanted to go to college, but only 69% enrolled that fall.
Students may have every intention of getting into a school, but many of their scores don't make the cut. In California, only 34% of students received satisfactory scores in all subject areas. Across the nation, that figure is even lower, 26%.
Minority students lagged behind their peers in meeting target scores; nationally, 11% of African American and 23% of Latino students hit at least three ACT benchmarks, compared with 57% of Asian and 49% of white students.
In California, 70% of white students, 65% of Asian students, 26% of Latino students and 21% of African American students met this benchmark goal.
Nearly half of all students in California stated they were aiming for a graduate or professional degree, but the intent to chase higher education dreams isn't enough, according to ACT officials.
"High aspirations are wonderful, but in too many cases, students' actual preparation is not aligned with those aspirations," Jon Whitmore, the chief executive of ACT, said in a statement. "We need to make sure that students are taking the necessary steps to reach their goals through effective educational planning, monitoring and interventions."
A statement from Bob Schaeffer, public education director of the National Center for Fair & Open Testing, an organization that advocates for fair and accurate testing, described standardized exams as "an exercise in stubbornness, not meaningful school improvement."
"Ending the counterproductive fixation on standardized exams is necessary to create the space for better assessments that actually enhance learning and teaching," Schaeffer said.
The goal of the ACT exam is to assess how prepared students are to tackle their first year of college courses and beyond.