The nation’s high school class of 2013 does not have the basic skills needed to succeed in college or the workplace, according to a new report from the company that administers the ACT test, taken by just over half of students.
Just 26 percent of 2013 graduates who took the test met all four ACT College Readiness Benchmarks. Even more worrying: 31 percent of grads didn’t meet any of the benchmarks, according to The Condition of College & Career Readiness 2013. The benchmarks--in English, reading, math, and science--represent the minimum score students must earn to have a 75 percent chance of earning a grade C or higher in a typical first-year college class in that subject.
“Once again, our data show that high school success and college readiness are not necessarily the same thing,” ACT Chief Executive Officer Jon Whitmore said in a prepared statement. “Too many students are likely to struggle after they graduate from high school. As a nation we must set ambitious goals and take strong action to address this consistent problem.”
The report—prepared by the Iowa-based nonprofit American College Testing Inc., which administers the ACT test—analyzes the scores of 2013 high school graduates who took the ACT. The test always existed as an alternative to the SAT test, but in recent years has surpassed the latter in popularity among students. A handful of states require all students to take the test as a high school exit exam.
Critics of standardized test claim scores on the SAT or ACT do not accurately predict how a student will perform in college and that they unfairly favor wealthy, white students. Hundreds of schools now give students the option not to send in ACT or SAT scores, if they meet other requirements.
Robert Rothman, a senior fellow at the Alliance for Excellent Education, says the latest ACT results—which haven’t changed much in recent years--are no surprise. Educational advances have taken place at the elementary school and middle school levels but have not translated to improvements in the high schools.
“It’s harder to change the high schools,” Rothman says. “And there hasn’t been as much of a concerted effort to address the needs of older students.” More recent education reforms—such as the 2010 adoption of the Common Core Standards—have not been in place long enough to have much of an impact on today’s graduates, and should help future grads.
Science remains the subject area in which students are least likely to be ready for college-level work; just 36 percent of test takers achieved the ACT College Readiness Benchmark in that subject. That’s bad news for employers, who have found a lack of qualified college graduates to fill jobs in science, technology, math and engineering.
The ACT study showed that minority students are even less prepared than their peers. Only 48 percent of African American, Hispanic or American Indian students met any of the four ACT College Readiness benchmarks.
Asian graduates performed the best, with 43 percent of students meeting all four ACT College Readiness Benchmarks; just 5 percent of African-American students met all four benchmarks.
“Those findings of a racial gap are nothing new,” says Mike Cohen, president of Achieve, a nonprofit organization that helps states raise academic standards and improve assessments. “It just means that those gaps are persistent, and we’ve got a lot of work to do to close them.”
Wisconsin and Michigan had the best scores in the country, with more than half of high school graduates meeting three of more of the benchmarks. In Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, and North Carolina, less than 30 percent of students met three or four benchmarks. The state rankings did not include the 19 states where less than 40 percent of students take the test.