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ACT results show slight increase in college, career readiness

Students slowly move toward college and career readiness while racial and ethnic gaps remain.
Students are slowly moving toward college and career readiness, though racial and ethnic gaps remain.

Only 24 percent of 2010 high school graduates who took the ACT met or surpassed all four of the ACT College Readiness Benchmarks, and while there is much room for improvement, college and career readiness advocates are encouraged by the increase in this year’s figure—up from 21 percent in 2006 and 23 percent in 2009.

The results reflect a slow but steady increase in college readiness as the population of ACT-tested graduates has grown to new levels—up by 30 percent since 2006—and become more diverse. Ethnic and/or racial minority students this year made up 29 percent of all ACT-tested graduates, up from 23 percent in 2006. The highest growth was in the number of Hispanic graduates tested, which has nearly doubled since 2006, increasing by 84 percent. College readiness is determined in English, reading, math, and science.

But that increase in the number of minority students who took the test showed that college and career readiness gaps between some racial and/or ethnic groups remain wide. The largest readiness gap in the ACT results was between Asian students at 39 percent and black students at 4 percent.

“The results are encouraging, particularly when we look at the trends over time,” said Cynthia B. Schmeiser, ACT’s Education Division president and chief operating officer. “As the number of ACT-tested students continues to rapidly grow larger and more representative of the U.S. population, we’re seeing a clearer picture of the condition of college and career readiness in this country. Even though there are still high numbers of students who are not ready, these findings suggest we’re starting to get more kids over the readiness threshold, which means increased postsecondary access and opportunity and greater likelihood of success in college and career.”

The figures are from the ACT’s “The Condition of College and Career Readiness: 2010,” a report on the performance of 2010 graduating seniors who took the ACT as sophomores, juniors, or seniors and self-reported that they were scheduled to graduate in 2010. The percent of graduates ready to succeed in college coursework remains highest in English (66 percent), with reading (52 percent), math (43 percent), and science (29 percent) trailing behind.

Bob Schaeffer, public education director for the National Center for Fair & Open Testing, said his organization is tracking the results from standardized test score reports.

“Average ACT and SAT scores for the high school class of 2010 will be released over the next two weeks. Typically, test-makers try to focus attention on small year-to-year changes, either marginally higher or lower, many of which have little practical meaning. Far more important are multi-year patterns, which provide one measure of overall direction,” he said.

The group will examine indicators such as whether or not No Child Left Behind has worked to improve test scores overall, and if its has narrowed racial and income gaps.

“Students in the high school class of 2010 were in fourth grade when the controversial federal testing mandate became law. Proponents promised significant gains in educational performance from NCLB’s test-and-punish approach. Do admissions exam averages over the past decade support that claim?” he asked. “Do admissions tests score trends show the reduction of historic score differences between demographic groups promised by NCLB proponents? Similarly, has NCLB reduced the strong correlation between admissions test scores and family income?”

The ACT report found that there is substantial room for improvement in college and career readiness. Among 2010 ACT-tested graduates, a combined total of 43 percent met either none (28 percent) or only one (15 percent) of the four benchmarks. Those students are likely lacking many of the skills needed to be ready to succeed in credit-bearing first-year college courses and in workforce training programs this fall, the report found.

College readiness and subsequent completion is something that President Barack Obama has made one of his central goals for education.

“President Obama has set an ambitious goal that the United States will lead the world in college completion by the end of the decade,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. “While the college readiness of our students has been gradually increasing in recent years, it isn’t nearly high enough to meet this goal. We need to continue to advance reforms that prepare students for success in college and careers.”

Schmeiser agreed that more can be done to improve the number of students who are college ready when they finish high school.

“While we’re encouraged by the growth we’re seeing, we still have far too many students in our nation graduating from high school without the knowledge and skills they will need to succeed in college and career,” Schmeiser said. “Efforts are already under way on many fronts to address this problem, and this hard work must continue until the problem is resolved.”

The ACT results come at a time when much national focus is being placed on adopting and implementing new college and career readiness standards in high school. Many states have already adopted or are in the process of adopting the Common Core State Standards. ACT has been a partner in the Common Core State Standards Initiative, helping inform the development of the standards.

While there have been more students meeting all four ACT College Readiness Benchmarks over the past five years, the average ACT composite score has remained essentially unchanged. The national average composite score this year was 21.0, down slightly from 21.1 in three of the past five years. The ACT is scored on a scale of 1 to 36, with 36 being the highest possible score.



National Center for Fair & Open Testing

Note to readers:

Don’t forget to visit the Measuring 21st-century skills resource center. Graduates who enter the workplace with a solid grasp of 21st-century skills bring value to both the workplace and global marketplace. Go to:

Measuring 21st-century skills

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