MINNEAPOLIS - Minnesota scores on the ACT college entrance exam slipped after the state required juniors to take the test as part of statewide testing.

But Minnesota students still scored high on the test. Minnesota leads the 18 states where all 2016 high school graduates were tested with an average score of 21.1, according to a report issued Wednesday. Minnesota's average score also was above the national average of 20.8.

The Minnesota Department of Education says In total, 64,145 students -- an increase of 17,283 students or 37 percent over the class of 2015 -- took the exam, which historically is an important access point to college and postsecondary opportunities. Notable were significant increases in the number of students from groups that are traditionally underserved.

"I will gladly celebrate greater equity and opportunity for Minnesota kids any day of the week," said State Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius. "We anticipated that our statewide average score might decrease as we opened up the ACT to all students, but we are opening doors and raising the bar for all kids, especially those we have left behind before."

Minnesota's average score slipped from 22.7 the previous year, when 78 percent of college-bound students took the ACT. The drop was expected after juniors took the ACT as part of the statewide testing program in spring of 2015.

Minnesota added more than 17,000 students to the testing program. All minority student groups increased, with the largest increase in Hispanic students with 1,709.