College readiness questioned

BATON ROUGE — College and career readiness problems persist among U.S. high school graduates, with the majority ill-prepared for success at the next level, according to the latest edition of nonprofit ACT’s yearly report, The Condition of College & Career Readiness 2013.

ACT, however, points to solutions and ongoing efforts that could help improve student readiness in the future.

Only 39 percent of ACT-tested 2013 graduates met three or more of the four ACT College Readiness Benchmarks. Conversely, 31 percent of graduates did not meet any of the benchmarks. ACT research suggests that students who don’t meet the benchmarks are likely to struggle in relevant first-year courses at two- and four-year colleges, which increases their risk of not succeeding in college.

“Once again, our data show that high school success and college readiness are not necessarily the same thing,” said Jon Whitmore, ACT chief executive officer. “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 competitiveness of our young people and of our nation as a whole in the global economy is at stake.”

In Louisiana, 45,305 of the state’s graduates, an estimated 100 percent of the graduating class, took the ACT. The average composite score was 19.5, while the national average was 20.9. Louisiana students averaged 19.4 on the English portion of the test; 19.2 on math; 19.7 on reading and 19.2 on science.

The state had 60 percent of its students reach the English benchmark; 33 percent of its students reach the reading benchmark; 29 percent of its students reach the mathematics benchmark and 25 percent of its students reach the science benchmark. Of the 45,305 students who took the ACT, 37 percent didn’t reach any benchmarks, 21 percent met one, 15 percent met two, 11 percent met three and 16 percent met all four benchmarks.

Louisiana and ACT are working to help students be better prepared for the test and for college with other ACT-like testing. Eighth and ninth graders in the state take the ACT Explore test; 10th graders take the ACT Plan test and 11th and 12th graders take the ACT.

The state of Louisiana has all of its high school juniors take the ACT test. This measure accounts for 25 percent of a high school’s student achievement points.

The research-based ACT College Readiness Benchmarks specify the minimum score students must earn on each of the four subject tests that make up the ACT college readiness assessment (English, math, reading and science) to have about a 75 percent chance of earning a grade of C or higher in a typical credit-bearing first-year college course in that subject area. ACT research suggests that students who meet the benchmarks are more likely than those who do not to persist in college and earn a degree.

The results continue to indicate that minority students are less likely than others to be ready for college. No more than 48 percent of African American, Hispanic and American Indian students met any of the four ACT College Readiness Benchmarks.

“We are particularly concerned about underserved students, who are much more likely than others to be at risk,” said Whitmore. “We must work hard to eliminate the gaps that exist.”

Whitmore, however, expressed optimism about the future.

“We are encouraged to see efforts already underway to address readiness issues,” said Whitmore. “Individual states are making bold efforts to improve college and career readiness, including strengthening learning standards. The Common Core State Standards, which ACT helped develop, are raising the bar. We at ACT are developing a number of solutions to help students get and stay on track for success, including our new ACT Aspire assessment system.”

ACT research suggests that earlier monitoring and intervention are crucial elements to improving student readiness for success after high school.

“It is critical that we identify and address problems in academic achievement early in a student’s academic career, so that they can get on track for readiness as soon as possible,” said Jon Erickson, ACT president of education. “This is not about college readiness alone but about readiness for taking the next step, whether it’s entering the workforce, attending a trade school, or enrolling in a two- or four-year college or university.”

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 science. ACT is doing extensive research on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) in our schools and plans to release a report on the condition of the STEM pipeline later this year.

The ACT report examines the ACT scores of a record 1.8 million students, 54 percent of the U.S. graduating class. It was the largest and most diverse group of graduates ever to take the ACT, the nation’s leading college entrance exam, and also likely the broadest in terms of academic preparation. This is due in part to an increase in the number of states and districts that administer the ACT to all students, not just those who are preparing to go to college. This year’s report includes 29 states in which 50 percent or more of graduates took the ACT and 12 states in which 90 percent or more took the assessment. As more students take the ACT, the data obtained from scores better reflect the entire U.S. graduating class, providing a glimpse of the emerging educational pipeline.

The report notes some changes that affect the ability to make direct comparisons in some areas.

ACT updated the ACT College Readiness Benchmarks this year to ensure that they remain reflective of college success. These updates were based on gradual changes identified through ACT’s routine practice of monitoring the predictive validity of the ACT. As a result, two benchmark scores were adjusted: The benchmark score in reading went up by 1 point on the 1 to 36 scoring scale, while the score in science went down by 1 point. The English and math benchmarks remained the same.

In addition, college-reportable scores for all accommodated students were included in the ACT report this year for the first time. In prior years, scores for students receiving time-extended accommodations were not included in the summary reporting.

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