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ACT Report Shows Most High School Graduates Are Not Ready For College

August 22, 2013

College and career readiness has been a problem among U.S. high school graduates for many years. The latest report from ACT shows that this year's high school graduates are continuing the trend, as most students who took the ACT exam this year did not score high enough to meet research-based college or career readiness benchmarks.

As reported by The Wall Street Journal, although student performance on the ACT exam has improved slightly since 2009, nearly 75 percent of 2013 high school graduates who took the ACT are not ready for the rigors of college. This year, just 26 percent of high school students scored high enough on all four benchmarks in math, reading, English and science to show that they were prepared for college; an increase from 23 percent in 2009.

An ACT news release explained that college-ready benchmarks reflect the minimum score a student must earn to have a 75 percent chance of earning a C or better in a credit-bearing first-year college course. According to The Washington Post, 66 percent of test takers met the college-ready benchmarks in English. Success was not as high in other subjects -- 44 percent of test takers met the mark in math and reading and science was the worst, with 36 percent of students showing they were college-ready.

Education experts expressed concerns over the data, arguing that the nation's focus on standardized tests has not improved student performance.

"The overwhelming evidence that college preparation is not improving -- even when measured by test results -- shows that politicians' fixation on high-stakes standardized exams to boost student performance is a failed strategy," said Bob Schaeffer of the National Center for Fair & Open Testing, in a statement quoted by The Washington Post.

Education Week noted, however, that the stagnant figures could be a result of various factors, making it difficult to compare to past data. For instance, this is the first year that results from students with disabilities were included in the overall numbers. ACT also modified this year's benchmarks -- the first time doing so in a decade, according to The Wall Street Journal -- bringing the benchmark reading score up 1 point to 22 (out of a possible 36) and science down 1 point to 23. U.S. News & World Report also pointed out that significantly more minority students are taking the ACT exam and these groups tend to score lower. Education Week reported that the average composite score among Asian students was 23.5; for white students 22.2; Latinos scored an average of 18.8; American Indians 18 and African-Americans 16.9.

"We know that gaps in achievement come down to gaps in learning opportunities," said Natasha Ushomirsky, a K-12 policy and research analyst at Education Trust, to Education Week. "We need to figure out how to give all students the same opportunity to learn."

Despite the low numbers, however, some experts cautioned against putting too much emphasis on the data. In The Wall Street Journal, for example, Anthony Carnevale, director of the Georgetown Public Policy Institute Center on Education and the Workforce, argued that ACT results should not be strongly linked to career readiness as the skills that are tested do not necessarily correlate with real world job skills. In a similar vein, Jim Rawlins, the president of the National Association of College Admission Counseling and the director of admissions at the University of Oregon, told U.S. News & World Report that although colleges do look at test scores, other factors are considered in the admissions process. He stated that the exam is not a definitive way to determine college success and that scores often reflect what is available to a high school student, rather than his or his innate potential. Indeed, The Wall Street Journal noted that the report did not factor in students' socio-economic backgrounds, which many scholars believe is also an indicator of college readiness.

"Test scores, as I often tell students, as much as we want them to take [tests] seriously and it's important to us, [represent] four or five hours out of their life," said Rawlins in U.S. News & World Report.


Compiled by Heidi M. Agustin

Sources:

"2013 Condition of College and Career Readiness," act.org, 2013

"Challenges in Readiness Persist Among US High School Grads," act.org, August 21, 2013

"High School Graduates Still Struggle With College Readiness," usnews.com, August 21, 2013, Allie Bidwell

"Just 26 percent of ACT test-takers are prepared for college," washingtonpost.com, August 21, 2013, Emma Brown and Lynh Bui

"Most Students Aren't Ready for College, ACT Data Show," edweek.org, August 21, 2013, Caralee J. Adams

"U.S. Students Slightly More Ready for College This Year," blogs.wsj.com, August 21, 2013, Anita Hofschneider

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