DATE:         August 17, 1999
CONTACT: Gus Wales
PHONE:      225-922-2029
FAX:           225-922-0790


Based on data released today by American College Testing (ACT), Louisiana high school graduates of 2000 will again be required to achieve a minimum ACT composite score of 20 by the April 1, 2000 national test date in order to qualify for an Opportunity Award under the Tuition Opportunity Program for Students (TOPS). The announcement was made by Jack Guinn, executive director of the Louisiana Office of Student Financial Assistance (LOSFA).

The minimum ACT requirement for the TOPS’ Opportunity Award is set by law as the prior year state average. The average score earned by the 35,829 Louisiana high school graduates of 1999 who took the national college readiness test was 19.6, which rounds to 20 for purposes of TOPS.

"The second anniversary of TOPS and the second consecutive year that Louisiana’s average ACT score has increased, an occurrence whose implications are too obvious to ignore," said Guinn. "Prior to TOPS, our average composite score had remained flat at 19.4 for three years."

Margaret French, ACT Elementary and Secondary Services Consultant, attributed Louisiana’s continuing gains in part to the TOPS program. "To see an increase in the average composite score for two consecutive years, especially coupled with an increase in the number of students taking the test, is rare," French said. "When something like that occurs, we have to begin looking for contributing external factors. TOPS immediately comes to mind."

"TOPS has given average students, and students from low income families, an incentive to study harder because they realize they can go to college if they do well in school," French continued. As a result, more students are taking core courses that will prepare them for college and the effect is showing up in testing. This year, 76% of Louisiana’s high school graduates took the ACT, that’s the fourth highest percentage in the nation," she added.

"Louisiana is steadily gaining on the rest of the nation," French continued, "especially in certain subject areas and among certain ethnic groups."

"Since 1995, Louisiana’s composite scores for the English component of the ACT have increased at twice the rate of the national increase," French added. "Among Louisiana African-American students in all family income categories who have taken the core courses, the overall composite ACT score is only one tenth of a point below the national average for African-American students. This includes African American students from families earning less than $18,000 per year."

Among the 70% of all Louisiana students who took the ACT after completing core curriculum courses, the average composite score was 20.6, a full point higher than the overall state average score. The English component of the test showed the greatest improvement among Louisiana students taking the test, up from a 19.5 in 1998 to a 19.7 this year. Math scores rose from 18.8 last year to 18.9 this year. Louisiana composite scores in Reading and Science Reasoning remained the same from 1998 to 1999.

"This is the best news I’ve heard in months," said Governor Mike Foster. "This means TOPS is doing what it’s supposed to do. This program was created to raise the educational level of our young people and to give them an incentive to go on to college," he continued. "The end result for Louisiana will be a better educated workforce, a workforce whose earning power will provide a better quality of life for all of us," the Governor stated. "I congratulate our students on their academic achievements and assure them that their hard work will be rewarded," he concluded.