ST. PAUL — Minnesota again posted strong scores on the ACT, but thousands of students skipped the college-admissions test after the state stopped covering the fee.

The state’s 2019 high school graduating class posted an average composite score of 21.4 out of a possible 36, the testing nonprofit announced Wednesday.

That’s slightly higher than the 2018 class and tops among the 17 states where almost everyone participates. Many states’ ACT scores beat Minnesota’s average, but none of those have participation rates above 80%.

One of those was South Dakota, at 21.6, but only 3 out of 4 eligible students took the test.

Just 95% of the Minnesota’s 2019 high school graduates took the ACT, down from 99-100% each of the previous three years.

North Dakota had a 96% participation rate with an overall composite score of 19.9, 36th overall among the 50 states and the District of Columbia.

By score, South Dakota ranked 21st and Minnesota 23rd.

By discipline, North Dakota ranked 39th in percent meeting English benchmark (52), reading 39th (38), math tied-33rd (34).

South Dakota: English (22nd, 66), reading (tied 21st, 52), math (tied 21st, 47), science (tied-21st, 45).

Minnesota: English (27th, 61), reading (26th, 48), math (tied 21st, 47), (23rd, 42).

The national averages are English 59, reading 45, math 39 and science 36.

Minnesota in 2015 began requiring schools to offer the ACT during the school day, with the state covering the exam fees. That lowered the average score, but virtually every 2016 graduate took the test as a high school junior, compared to 78% for the 2015 class.

Starting in 2018, however, lawmakers stopped reimbursing schools for in-school exams taken by higher-income students. They argued there’s too much testing in school and that some students either take the test on their own or have no interest. Now, more are opting out.

Some Minnesota school districts, including St. Paul, choose to cover the in-school ACT fees for students who are not reimbursed by the state.

Dennis Olson, Minnesota higher education commissioner, said the state has had “great success” making the ACT mandatory and he wants to see every high schooler take the test.

“I think students should be as well prepared for any potential option in front of them possible. That means having an ACT score on file,” he said.

Nationally, the share of graduates who take the ACT has been dropping steadily, to 52% this year from 64% in 2016.

Forum News Service contributed to this report.