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Only quarter of grads ready for college, tests show

By Philip Elliott

Associated Press

LAST UPDATED: 05:11 a.m. HST, Aug 21, 2013

WASHINGTON » Just a quarter of this year's high school graduates who took the ACT tests have the reading, math, English and science skills they need to succeed in college or a career, according to data the testing company released today.

The numbers are even worse for black high school graduates: Only 5 percent are fully ready for life after high school.

The results, part of ACT's annual report, indicate thousands of students graduate from high schools without the knowledge necessary for the next steps in life. The data also show a downturn in overall student scores, although company officials attribute the slide to updated standards and more students taking the exams — including those with no intention of attending two- or four-year colleges.

"The readiness of students leaves a lot to be desired," said Jon Erickson, president of the Iowa-based company's education division.

The ACT report is based on the 54 percent of high school graduates this year who took the exams. Roughly the same percentage took the SAT — the other major college entrance exam — and many students took both tests. Those who took only the SAT were not included in the report.

Under ACT's definition, a young adult is ready to start college or trade school if he or she has the knowledge to succeed without taking remedial courses. Success is defined as the student's having a 75 percent chance of earning a C grade and a 50 percent chance of earning a B, based on results on each of the four ACT subject areas, which are measured on a scale from 1 to 36 points.

Of all ACT-tested high school graduates this year, 64 percent met the English benchmark of 18 points. In both reading and math, 44 percent of students met the readiness threshold of 22 points. In science, 36 percent scored well enough to be considered ready for a college biology course, or 23 points.

Only 26 percent of students met the benchmarks for all four sections of the ACT test.

About 69 percent of test takers met at least one of the four subject-area standards. That means 31 percent of all high school graduates who took the ACT were not ready for college coursework requiring English, reading, math or science skills.

Of the 1.7 million students who took the 215-question ACT exam, as many as 290,000 were within 2 points of meeting at least one of the four the readiness thresholds.

"There is a group that's on the fence," Erickson said in an interview with The Associated Press ahead of his company's release of the report. "With a little further instruction or motivation, perhaps some additional remediation or refreshing some of their past skills, they may be able to achieve that benchmark."

When the testing agency broke down the results by race, fault lines emerged. Just 5 percent of black students are ready for college work in all four areas. Among American Indians, 10 percent are ready in all subjects, while 14 percent of Hispanics are ready. Pacific Islanders post a 19 percent readiness rate for all four subjects. White students have a 33 percent rate, and 43 percent of Asian-American students are ready for studies in all four subjects.

Erickson said the lower-performing students often attend the worst schools.

Students from all racial backgrounds did best in English and worst in science.

Some states and school districts have begun requiring more students to take the tests. About 22 percent more students took the ACT test in 2013 than in 2009. In the past four years, ACT has increased its share of the test market, climbing from 45 percent of high school graduates in 2009 to 54 percent this year.

ACT said it updated its benchmarks for success in reading and science this year to better reflect what students need to know. The percentage of students with reading skills needed to succeed after graduation slid from 53 in 2009 to 44 last year, while science readiness scores climbed from 28 percent in 2009 to 36 percent last year. Both differences may have been caused in part by changes in the benchmarks.

In other subjects without changes in the benchmarks, students' readiness scores have declined. In English, scores slid from 67 percent in 2009 to 64 percent last year. And in math, scores increased slightly, from 42 percent in 2009 to 44 percent this year.



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serious wrote:
If they take a Liberal Arts course, as most teachers do, it's just a repeat of HS and they can pass on their lack of progression to the next generation. But it's not the teachers that pass on poor students, it's the parents. Start reading to them when they are still in diapers. Have curfews. Not skate boarding at 2AM. And, most of all set an example--libraries are good start.
on August 21,2013 | 07:26AM
allie wrote:
we need a strong pre-k program nation-wide.
on August 21,2013 | 07:34AM
CriticalReader wrote:
There is a report ONLY on Hawaii. Follow the link at the bottom of the article.
on August 21,2013 | 09:32AM
MexMe wrote:
I don't agree. It's a matter of parental involvement and support. Most of our elementary students do well but things fall apart in junior high and high school. There are so many distractions for students at that age and very few support systems for them or their families. Not all parents have the tools to help their child succeed as many of them are too busy or did not do well in school either. Choosing the right classes for a high school student has become very complicated. It needs to be simplified somehow. A true solution is to have a more year round school calendar. We are no longer an agrarian society that needs child labor to harvest in the summers. It would also ease the need for childcare for working parents during the summer as well. But many political reasons prevent us from moving to year round school and one would be that teachers would need to be paid a year round wage (many supplement their incomes by working at other jobs during the summer). Vacations would still exist but would be longer during the holidsays and shorter in the summer. The Europeans use this system as well as most Asian countries. Hawai'i used to have something that was very close to a year round schedule but schools make lots of extra income by hosting summer school on public school campuses. Studies have shown that students perform better with a year round schedule as they forget less and less time is needed at the start of a new year to review what was forgotten over the summer.
on August 21,2013 | 09:57AM
usc wrote:
Students entering college will take a remedial math course if they have not gotten through trigonometry. The ACT is taken in junior year of high school so if a student has not enrolled in TRIG by their junior year, they will probably fail to meet the requirement for the math portion as defined in this article. The Common Core Standards that was adopted this year by the HI DOE has TRIG as a standard for all graduating seniors. I doubt if 40% of public school students are graduating with TRIG on their course list. So really, the ACT testing scores is not an acurate measure of student readiness for college as it eliminates an entire year of high school learning since it is taken a year or more before graduation. That said, until high school seniors get through TRIG or CALCULUS by the completion of their high school education, they will still be required to take remedial math in their first year of college.
on August 21,2013 | 08:30AM
CriticalReader wrote:
If you follow the ACT link at the bottom of the article,, then you will see that there are reports containing statistics for each State, If you read Hawaii's report, only 20.1% of Hawaii's students are ready for college according to the ACT methodology. The report does not differentiate between private and public school students. Also, the data is taken from only ACT (as opposed to SAT) taking students. Also, the 20% figure is for the students who met minimum benchmarks for ALL four of the ACT's graded areas (Math, Science, Reading and English). 35% of Hawaii Students hit readiness benchmarks in NONE of the categories. Either way, 20% average readiness and 36% complete unreadiness doesn't bode well.
on August 21,2013 | 09:32AM
Kuniarr wrote:
In the years prior to 1999 when US factories began moving operations to China and other countries, there was little need to go to College to get a good and well-paying job in the consumer manufacturing industry. All that was needed for graduates or drop-outs of High School was the ability to learn a skill such as a fork lift operator for example. Or operating a machine.

The millions and millions of jobs in the manufacturing industry that vanished with the signing of NAFTA and China Free Trade Agreement has led to the need for a College Degree to get a well-paying job
on August 21,2013 | 10:22AM
newsjunky1 wrote:
Parental involvement is the main determining factor of student success or lack there of.Why do we continue to make excuses and deny this very basic premise? No amount of money that we throw at educaction will help until we HOLD PARENTS RESPONSIBLE for sending to school a student that is ready to learn and behave. PERIOD.
on August 21,2013 | 01:57PM
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