Carrington High School in Carrington, North Dakota

Students from Carrington High School in Carrington, ND had the highest average composite ACT score in North Dakota’s Class of 2022 with an average of 22.8, putting them in the nation’s 70th-percentile rank and in first place on this list of the top North Dakota high schools by ACT scores. Less than a full point behind the tallest flower in the Peace Garden State—that is, Carrington High—are Kindred High School and Northern Cass High School, which tied with a composite score of 22.1, and Thompson High School with a 21.9 average composite score.

(Top image caption—Carrington High School in Foster County has North Dakota’s highest average ACT scores.)

A school’s average ACT scores are usually reliable indicators of college- and career-readiness, and the “best” high schools are those which adequately prepare their students for college or a career. This article looks at general trends in North Dakota’s 2022 ACT scores with a focus on the top-scoring high schools across the state.

ACT Testing in North Dakota

North Dakota’s Class of 2022 included 7,353 students who took the ACT; they scored a mean composite of 19.2 out of a possible 36. For reference, 2019’s graduating class (the largest on record) had about 100 more students and scored slightly higher, with a mean composite of 19.9. Nationally, the average composite score in 2022 was 19.8 (down from 2020’s mean composite of 20.6).

For nearly 10 years, North Dakota has administered the ACT to all high school juniors; however, beginning with 2021-22, the state only pays for juniors’ ACT testing for “public school districts that elect to use ACT as their high school accountability tool.” As a result, the ACT scores of several North Dakota schools were not available for 2022. 96% of North Dakota juniors took the ACT in 2021, down from 100% testing in 2020.

In 2022, it was one of 8 states where between 90-99% of graduates took the ACT; among these, it ranked fourth (with an average composite of 19.2). Of the other states in this range, Utah had the highest average score (testing 91% with an average score of 19.9), Nebraska and Wisconsin tied for second place (testing 94% and 93% respectively, scoring an average of 19.4), and Oklahoma ranked last (testing 94% of students with a score of 17.9).

To more fully contextualize this, it’s important to acknowledge that states with higher testing levels tend to have lower average scores. One main reason for this is that they include results from students whose future plans may not include college-level coursework. In states where standardized testing like the ACT is optional, test-takers are primarily a self-selecting, academically advanced cohort, which is reflected in their test scores. Consider, for example, Washington D.C and Massachusetts, which had the highest average ACT scores in the nation (26.9 and 26.5), but administered tests to only 18% and 9% of graduates, respectively.

ACT College Readiness Benchmarks

The ACT’s “College Readiness Benchmarks” are the scores (out of 36) on the subject area tests that indicate a student’s chances of college success. The ACT believes that meeting the benchmarks for English, Reading, Mathematics, and Science gives a student a 50% chance of earning a B or higher or a 75% chance of getting a C or higher in a corresponding freshman-level college course. Unchanged since 2013, these benchmark scores and their college course equivalents are:

  • English (English Composition) – 18
  • Reading (Social Sciences) – 22
  • Math (College Algebra) – 22
  • Science (Biology) – 23

Since 2015, the ACT has also offered a College Readiness Benchmark for coursework in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math), based on scores on the Math & Science subject area tests. Because college-level STEM coursework tends to be more academically challenging (for instance, many STEM freshmen begin with Calculus instead of Algebra), ACT has determined that the benchmark ACT score is significantly higher for STEM than in other subject areas. Meeting the STEM benchmark indicates a 50% chance of earning a B or higher in identified college-level STEM courses. The benchmark score is: Math & Science (STEM) – 26

Many North Dakota Juniors are Not College-Ready

North Dakota’s Class of 2022 lags behind the national average for students meeting ACT College Readiness Benchmarks (CRBs). North Dakota graduates are most college-ready in English, with about half (48%) of graduates meeting the CRB, but the numbers are lower in other subject areas. 35% of students met the Reading benchmark, and under a third are college-ready in Science (30%) and Math (28%).

Compared to the class of 2020, this set of graduates showed a slightly lower level of college preparedness across the board. The average scores of the class of 2022 have declined 2% in English, 5% in Math, 2% in Reading, and 1% in Science—the average subject scores of 2022 students across the entire nation have declined, so this isn’t an issue specific to North Dakotans.

Montana’s Racial & Economic Achievement Gaps

Nationally, there is a concerning correlation between a student’s racial background and their likelihood of achieving ACT CRBs. In general, Asian Americans have the highest rates of success, followed by white students. Students who identify as Black or African American score the lowest (Hispanic students, Native American students, and students of other races score somewhere in the middle.) It is important to emphasize that this is not a causative relationship. Black students do not score worse than white students, on average, because they are Black; rather, it is that many factors which negatively impact ACT scores tend to disproportionately affect non-white (and non-Asian) students.

North Dakota’s 2022 results reveal a similar racial achievement gap, and it’s important to note that North Dakota is overwhelmingly white—just over 5,300 white students in North Dakota took the ACT in 2022, while 400 Hispanic students, 116 Asian students, 366 Native American students, and 258 Black students took the exam. In North Dakota, 31% of Asian students and 32.5% of white students met three or more CRBs, while 18% of Hispanic students, 9.3% of Black students, and 6.3% of Native American students did the same.

Closing the achievement gap will take work, but it is an attainable goal. For instance, if North Dakota wanted to achieve parity in college readiness between white and Native American students, they would only need to improve the scores of around 95 Native American students. In order to do the same for the disparity between white and Hispanic students, they’d need to improve the scores of around 56 Hispanic students, and to amerliorate the disparity betwen white and Black students, they’d need to improve 60 Black students’ scores.

In addition to race, a student’s  economic status is often closely related to their ACT performance. Nationwide, the achievement gap between students whose family income is less than $36,000 a year (classified as “low income”) and those whose family income exceeds that amount is very wide: when comparing students who meet 3 or more CRBs, 20 percentage points separate the two groups. In North Dakota, this gap is smaller—around 16 percentage points—but still shows room for improvement.

How to Improve ACT Scores

Luckily for students of all racial and economic backgrounds looking to increase their chances of ACT success, there are several actions they can take which are statistically likely to improve their scores.

  1. Focus on schoolwork and take academically challenging classes. Students who do better in school nearly always do better overall on standardized tests like the ACT. For instance, 2022 North Dakota seniors who took a full four years of English scored an average of 3 points better on the English ACT than those who had taken less than four years of English classes, and students who took a full four years of math scored, on average, 5 points higher on the math ACT than their peers who took fewer than four years of math.
  2. Take the ACT more than once. There is a clear statistical advantage to retesting, even according to the ACT. In 2022, North Dakota students who took the ACT two or more times were nearly three times more likely to meet all four college readiness benchmarks, compared to those who took the test only once. Students worried about the cost of retesting should consider ACT’s fee waiver program, which allows eligible students to test for free.
  3. Spend time studying and preparing specifically for the ACT. Taking practice tests helps students familiarize themselves with the content and the format of the test and gives them specific feedback. In addition, working with a tutor can be an effective way of improving a student’s weakest areas and developing test-taking strategies. Piqosity offers a full suite of free ACT Practice materials and analyses of previously-released ACT tests, perfect for students wondering how to improve their ACT scores.

North Dakota’s Colleges are Popular and Affordable

It is difficult to say what most North Dakotan graduates’ post-secondary aspirations are; 80% of students declined to indicate their future educational plans, but most students indicated the colleges they want their scores sent to at the time of testing. The majority of students sent their scores to North Dakotan colleges (popular out-of-state picks included the University of Minnesota–Twin Cities, Minnesota State University–Moorhead, and Arizona State University)—most of the class of 2022 sent their scores to:

Admission to these schools is an attainable goal. The average ACT score of students at NDSU is a 24, and that of UND students is a 23—these scores aren’t far from the state’s average composite score.

While these schools do not have automatic/guaranteed admissions standards, some offer guaranteed scholarships. NDSU offers $6,000 or more for students with a 3.5 GPA or higher, based on ACT scores. Those who earn an ACT composite score of 25-28 can get $6,000, those who earn a 29-21 can get $8,000, and the top scorers who earn a 32+ can get a whopping $12,000. ($1,500/year, $2,000/year, and $12,000/year, respectively.) UND also has a similar scholarship program.

The Top North Dakota High Schools by ACT Scores

The table below presents 2022 ACT Scores from 65 high schools for which full data was available. Explore the original data from the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction on the Official Data Portal for the North Dakota State Government. Two schools tied for second place, two tied for sixth, and two tied for tenth.

Top 10 North Dakota High Schools by 2022 Average ACT Scores (composite)

  1. Carrington High School (22.8)
  2. Kindred High School & Northern Cass High School (22.1)
  3. Thompson High School (21.9)
  4. Powers Lake High School (21.5)
  5. Valley-Edinburg High School (21.4)
  6. Century High School & Park River Area High School (21.3)
  7. Edgeley High School (21.1)
  8. Lisbon High School (21.0)
  9. Flasher High School (20.8)
  10. Rugby High School & May-Port CG High School (20.7)

How to Read This Sortable Table

  • The default sort is by composite score from highest to lowest; to change the sorting order, click on the header by which you want to sort
  • “Avg Score” is the composite ACT score from 0 to 36
  • “English, Reading, Math, Science” refers to the school’s average scores in each subject test from 0 to 36
  • “# Tested” refers to the number of students who sat for the test at each school
wdt_ID District School Avg Score English Math Reading Science
1 Carrington 49 Carrington High School 22.80 22.30 22.20 22.90 23.00
2 Kindred 2 Kindred High School 22.10 20.90 23.40 21.70 22.20
3 Northern Cass 97 Northern Cass High School 22.10 20.00 22.40 23.10 22.60
4 Thompson 61 Thompson High School 21.90 22.00 20.70 22.10 22.10
5 Powers Lake 27 Powers Lake High School 21.50 20.40 20.90 22.40 21.80
6 Valley-Edinburg 118 Valley-Edinburg High School 21.40 21.00 19.40 23.10 21.60
7 Bismarck 1 Century High School 21.30 20.60 20.90 21.70 21.70
8 Park River Area 8 Park River Area High School 21.30 19.50 22.70 20.70 21.80
9 Edgeley 3 Edgeley High School 21.10 20.50 21.70 20.50 21.70
10 Lisbon 19 Lisbon High School 21.00 20.60 20.10 21.20 21.60
11 Flasher 39 Flasher High School 20.80 20.10 19.10 21.60 22.10
12 Rugby 5 Rugby High School 20.70 19.50 21.40 20.20 21.20
13 May-Port CG 14 May-Port CG High School 20.70 19.40 21.70 20.00 21.00
14 Beach 3 Beach High School 20.60 18.80 22.20 20.30 20.10
15 Fargo 1 North High School 20.60 19.20 21.00 20.80 20.80
16 South Heart 9 South Heart High School 20.40 20.30 19.80 20.50 20.80
17 Grand Forks 1 Red River High School 20.30 18.90 20.50 20.50 20.90
18 Grand Forks 1 Central High School 20.30 19.50 20.20 20.40 20.70
19 Hillsboro 9 Hillsboro High School 20.30 19.60 19.60 21.00 20.60
20 Fargo 1 Fargo Davies High School 20.30 18.80 20.50 20.20 21.00
21 Larimore 44 Larimore High School 20.20 20.40 19.40 20.50 20.50
22 Valley City 2 Valley City High School 20.10 18.70 20.70 19.70 20.70
23 Fargo 1 South High School 20.00 18.70 20.10 20.20 20.30
24 Central Cass 17 Central Cass High School 19.90 19.20 19.40 20.30 20.20
25 Bismarck 1 Bismarck High School 19.90 19.50 19.30 19.80 20.50
District School Avg Score English Math Reading Science

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