ACT Performance


Percent of North Carolina Grade 11 students earning an ACT composite score of 17 or above (UNC minimum)

Last updated: 2019

= Top southern state

(not available for all indicators)



Percent of North Carolina 11th grade students earning an ACT Composite score of 17 or above (the minimum score required to be considered for admission at a UNC institution).


In 2019, 56% of North Carolina public school 11th graders earned an ACT composite score of 17 or higher. Since the 2012-13 school year, the ACT standardized test has been administered to all 11th graders in North Carolina. The ACT exam consists of four core subject tests:

  • English
  • Mathematics
  • Reading
  • Science

Possible scores in each subject test range from 1-36. A student’s composite score reflects their average performance on these four subjects. By 2030, the goal is to have 70% of 11th graders earn an ACT composite score of 17 or higher.


Students earning an ACT composite score of 17 or higher meet the state’s definition of being college-ready: this is the minimum ACT score required for consideration for admission to one of the University of North Carolina System’s 16 university campuses. Scores at or above this threshold are associated with an increased probability of acceptance at a UNC school: half of North Carolina residents with an ACT score of 17 were accepted to one of the state’s selective UNC System schools.

Research indicates that ACT composite scores are also associated with first-year GPA and degree completion. Nearly half (47%) of students with an ACT score of 17 earn a first-year college GPA of 2.50 or higher. A composite score of 17 is also associated with a roughly 50% chance of associate or bachelor’s degree completion within six years of enrolling in college.


Meeting the 2030 Goal

North Carolina needs 14,400 more 11th graders to earn a 17 or higher on the ACT to meet the statewide ACT performance goal.

During the 2018-19 school year, 56% of students earned an ACT composite score of 17 or higher.

Trends

The ACT was first administered to all North Carolina 11th graders during the 2012-13 school year. In this year, 59% of students earned a composite score of 17 or higher. This proportion increased to 60% in 2016 but has steadily declined over the past three years. ACT performance in 2019 was at its lowest recorded level (56%).
Bar chart showing percentage of NC public school 11th graders earning a 17 or higher on ACT exam, 2019, by geographic area, sex, demographic group, economic status, and overall NC state average.

By geography

Students from urban counties were the most likely to score 17 or higher on the ACT composite (59%) followed closely by students in suburban counties (57%). Among students from rural counties, students in rural counties in a metropolitan area were more likely to score a 17 or higher on the ACT than students in non-metropolitan rural counties: 51% versus 48%.

By sex

Female students (59%) were more likely to score a 17 or higher on the ACT than male students (53%).

By race/ethnicity

Asian (78%) students were the most likely student group to score 17 or higher on the ACT followed by white (70%) students. These were the only student groups with average performance exceeding the state ACT performance goal. Multiracial (57%) students had the next highest performance. Less than half of Hispanic (40%), American Indian (37%), and black (32%) students scored a 17 or higher on the ACT composite in 2019.

By economic disadvantage

Students classified as economically disadvantaged—meaning they received free or reduced price lunch—were less likely to score a 17 or higher on the ACT than students who were not economically disadvantaged. Thirty-six percent of economically disadvantaged students scored a 17 or higher compared to 68% of non-economically disadvantaged students.


Where does the data for ACT performance come from?

Data for student performance in the 2018-19 school year is reported by the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction (NC DPI).

How was the data calculated?

This is a direct download from NC DPI (2018-19 School Assessment and Other Indicator Data (XLSX)).

Who is included?

All North Carolina public school students in grade 11.

Who is excluded?

Some groups of students were excluded from ACT reporting. According to NC DPI, the following students were excluded: students who “took the NCEXTEND1 or the College and Career Readiness Alternate Assessment, were not in grade 11, were identified as [Limited English Proficient] in their first year in US schools, repeating grade 11, or had a documented medical exception.”


Who is working on this in NC?

Help improve this section

If you know of an organization that is working on this topic in NC, please let us know on the feedback form.

Further research and literature

Allen, J., & Radunzel, J. (2017). Relating ACT Composite Score to Different Levels of First-Year College GPA. Iowa City, IA: ACT, Inc.

Lauen, D. L., & Tomberlin, T. R. (2018). North Carolina K-12 Achievement. Raleigh, NC: myFutureNC.

Radunzel, J. (2018). How is the ACT Composite Score Related to the Likelihood that a Student will Complete a College Degree? Iowa City, IA: ACT, Inc.

FAQ

Does the ACT Performance indicator differ from ACT College Readiness Benchmarks?

Yes. Students earning an ACT composite score of 17 or higher meet the state’s definition of being college-ready: this is the minimum ACT score required for consideration for admission to one of the University of North Carolina System’s 16 university campuses.

The ACT College Readiness Benchmarks, as defined by ACT, are the minimum ACT scores required for students to have a high probability of success in credit-bearing first-year college courses. You can read more about the benchmark scores and how the benchmarks were developed.

What is on the ACT and what is the score range?

About the ACT: “The ACT contains four multiple-choice tests—English, mathematics, reading, and science—and an optional writing test. These tests are designed to measure skills that are most important for success in postsecondary education and that are acquired in secondary education. The score range for each of the four multiple-choice tests is 1–36. The Composite score is the average of the four test scores rounded to the nearest whole number.”


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