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A FIRST LOOK: New Report Finds Many Students Lack Skills Outlined in Common Core State Standards

“If states are to be successful in raising the expectations for what students should know and be able to do by the end of high school, it is important for them to understand their students’ level of college and career readiness today.”

Only about one-third of the nation’s eleventh-grade students are performing at the academic levels described as college and career ready in the common core state standards, according to a new report by ACT. The report, A First Look at the Common Core and College and Career Readiness, finds that only 38 percent of eleventh graders it studied met the benchmark in reading and only 34 percent hit the mark in the foundations of mathematics. The percentages are much lower for students of color.

ACT acknowledges that its analysis is not meant to focus on student performance on current state standards but to provide data on current student achievement levels in relation to the common core state standards. The report’s authors warn that these results should be taken with caution, writing, “Given that states were teaching to and assessing different sets of standards, it can be argued that students were not adequately prepared for an assessment of the Common Core State Standards.”

“If states are to be successful in raising the expectations for what students should know and be able to do by the end of high school, it is important for them to understand their students’ level of college and career readiness today,” said Cynthia B. Schmeiser, president and chief operating officer, education division, ACT. “This report is our first attempt to provide states with the best data and information available so that they can make informed education policy and practice decisions moving forward.”

The report analyzes test results from more than 250,000 eleventh-grade students who were administered the ACT, a prominent college entrance exam, in the spring of 2010. The student test data is measured against ACT’s research-based College Readiness Benchmarks to estimate how many students are proficient in each common core state standards category in English language arts and literacy and mathematics.

The common core state standards were developed through a state-led effort and define the knowledge and skills that students should have within their K–12 education careers so that they will graduate from high school able to succeed in college and career. Currently, forty-three states and the District of Columbia have adopted the standards. (To learn whether your state has adopted the common core state standards, visit the Alliance’s common standards portal.)

The report also finds large achievement gaps between white students and students of color. In reading, 47 percent of white students met the benchmark, compared to only 11 percent of black students and 19 percent of Hispanic students. In writing, 51 percent of all students and 60 percent of white students met the benchmark, compared to only 33 percent and 24 percent, respectively, of Hispanic and black students. The percentages were similar in language, with 53 percent of all students meeting the standard, but only 32 percent and 26 percent of Hispanic and black students, respectively, compared to 63 percent of white students. These numbers are in line with existing research on the achievement gap and, according to the report, strengthen the argument for raising college and career readiness rates of black, Hispanic, and other underserved populations.

In math, only 34 percent of students mastered the area of numbers and quantity, which is described as the foundation of math; 37 percent of students mastered statistics. The strongest math area was functions, which includes linear, quadratic, and exponential models. Across all areas of math, minority groups struggled with meeting the bar. For example, 42 percent of white students performed at the proficient level in the area of numbers and quantity compared to only 10 percent of black students and 16 percent of Hispanic students.

In a recent Education Week (subscription required) article, David Coleman, founder of Student Achievement Partners and coleader of the writing of the English and language arts section of the common core state standards, said the study confirms much of what the standards are meant to address: students’ struggles with such college-necessary skills as handling complex texts and mastering reading material in subjects like social studies and science among other things.

To help more students meet the bar set by the Common Core State Standards Initiative, ACT recommends that state and district education leaders focus on creating a school culture of high expectations, using data to individualize student learning, and fostering an atmosphere of support and collaboration among teachers. The report also advises policymakers at the federal, state, and local levels to recognize that the adoption of “fewer, clearer, higher” standards is a significant shift in expectations and that the shift has very real implications for education monitoring and accountability systems. A First Look recommends aligning federal programs and resources around the goal of college and career readiness, helping the public to better understand the importance of the common core state standards, and ensuring full and meaningful implementation of the common standards.

“The results of this study suggest that far too many of today’s students will graduate from high school unprepared for college-level work or career training programs without some type of remediation in English language arts or mathematics,” Schmeiser said. “The time is now for state, district, and school leaders to begin targeting those areas of the common core where performance is weakest so that all students are prepared for college and career opportunities.”

To read the full report, visit here.

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