Only one-quarter of US high school school seniors are ready for college according to The Condition of College and Career Readiness, an annual report put out by ACT, the non-profit that offers college-entrance exams similar to the Educational Testing Service’s SAT. As EdWeek points out, these results are actually an improvement over previous years. This year, 25 percent of all students’ scores in English, reading, math, and science correlate with their having higher chances of earning Bís or Cís in entry-level college courses; in 2005, only 21 percent did.
Specifically, the scores of 25 percent of the 1.6 million high school graduates who took the ACT indicated that they had a 50 percent chance of earning a B or higher and a 75 percent chance of earning a C or higher in college courses. About 28 percent of students did not reach any of the benchmarks in the four subject areas and 15 percent only reached one benchmark in one area.
The ACT’s report is a definite wake-up call that US schools need to do a lot better at preparing students and maintaining standards.†The Los Angeles Times quotes US Education Secretary Arne Duncan who
…acknowledged that American students are making “incremental” progress toward being able to complete college work, but said: “These ACT results are another sign that states need to raise their academic standards and commit to education reforms that accelerate student achievement.”
Jon Erickson, the ACTís senior vice president for educational services, struck a more positive note, pointing out that scores are improving:
We are optimistic that there is growth happening in the continual increase, even a tick at a time, in the overall college readiness of students. Itís a great sign, especially as the population [of ACT test-takers] gets more diverse and larger But Iíll temper that by saying we need to accelerate the pace. It will take us too long at a tick at a time.
In†EdWeek, Erickson also attributed the gains in college readiness to a national focus on just that, with an emphasis on the STEM fields of†science, technology, engineering and math. Students who take a “core curriculum” of four years of English and three years each of social studies, science and math fare better on the ACT’s exams:
Those who take three years of math, for instance, are nearly six times more likely to meet the college-readiness benchmark in that subject as those who donít, according to ACT data. But taking a core curriculum is no guarantee of stellar exam performance, either, a possible reflection of the widely recognized variation in course content and rigor. Only one-third of the students who took three years of science met the science benchmark.
The ACT also reports that students from a wider range of minority ethnic and racial groups are taking the test: Latino/a†student participation grew 116 percent in the last five years, Asian participation 59 percent, and African-American participation 47 percent, compared with 26 percent among white students. But only†4 percent of African-American students met the ACTís college-readiness benchmarks in all four subjects; 11 percent of Latino/a students did, 31 percent of white students and 41 percent of Asian students.
The college I teach at isn’t in the range of “highly selective” schools and the ACT’s findings roughly correlate with what I’ve noticed in my own students, as far as the number who are clearly ready for college-level English, math and science. Most students definitely need to work more on their writing and reading skills (keeping in mind that, for many of our students, English is a second or third language). Many struggle with math and are relieved to know they don’t (for some majors) need to take calculus. Science is definitely challenging, with students finding even science courses designed for non-science majors difficult.
But most of all, I’m glad the students are in college and applying themselves to their studies — and getting the preparation they didn’t get in high school.
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