The class of 2011 showed small gains in ACT scores, according to
a new report, but America still has a long way to go before all high
school graduates are prepared for college or a career.
The class of 2011 showed some small gains in their readiness for
college, according to a new ACT report released today, but America
still has a long way to go before all high school graduates are
prepared for college - or a career.
The annual report, which looks at graduates' performance against
four "college readiness benchmarks" in English, reading, math, and
science, found that 25 percent of graduates who took the ACT met or
surpassed the benchmarks in all four subjects, compared with 24
percent last year. It was the third consecutive year of improvement.
At the same time, 28 percent of graduates didn't meet the
benchmark in any of the four subjects, and another 15 percent met it
in just one.
The growth, even of just 1 percent, is significant given that
this is the largest and most diverse cohort to have taken the ACT,
says Paul Weeks, ACT's vice president of educational services.
"Obviously there are some reasons for optimism, but there are
also some signals and statistics that are cause for concern," says
The report attempts to get at not just what students know, but
also how likely they are to succeed in a college setting - the focus
of current federal education policy, in which "college and career
readiness" is the top buzzword.
The ACT's college-readiness benchmarks - based on actual grades
earned by students - are the minimum scores that indicate a student
has a 75 percent chance of earning a C or better, or a 50 percent
chance of earning a B or better, in a first-year credit-bearing
"These ACT results are another sign that states need to raise
their academic standards and commit to education reforms that
accelerate student achievement," said U.S. Secretary of Education
Arne Duncan in a statement. "American students are making
incremental progress toward being ready to complete college-level
work, but there's still significant work to be done."
The ACT is one of two college entrance exams widely taken by high
school seniors, and who takes it varies widely by geography, making
it difficult to compare scores across states. Some states require
the test of all students, while relatively few students opt to take
it in others. This year, a record 1.6 million students in the 2011
class took the exam.
The small improvement that was made in meeting benchmarks came
mostly from improvement in math and science - but those remain the
two subject areas where students struggle the most. Whereas 66
percent of graduates who took the test met the college-readiness
benchmark in English, for instance, just 30 percent did in science,
and 45 percent in math. (Last year, those numbers were 29 percent
and 43 percent, respectively.)
The results also showed a significant race-based achievement gap.
Just 4 percent of African-Americans met the benchmarks in all four
subjects, compared with 11 percent of Hispanics and American
Indians, 15 percent of Pacific Islanders, 31 percent of whites, and
41 percent of Asian-Americans. At least 50 percent of African-
American, Hispanic, and American-Indian students didn't meet any of
the four benchmarks.
While these benchmarks zero in on students' academic preparedness
for college, Weeks says that much of the research of ACT and other
organizations is focusing on other dimensions of what students need
to succeed in college or a career, such as behavioral readiness and
education and career planning.
And the focus from Secretary Duncan and other policy leaders on
college readiness as the ultimate goal may be starting to pay off,
he says, lauding the fact that the national conversation has shifted
away from proficiency targets to higher standards, more rigorous
coursework, and attaining the skills students need to succeed after
high school. …