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AFFIRMING THE GOAL: ACT Report Shows Common Standards in Math and Reading to Be Internationally Competitive

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“In a global economy—where all work can be digitized, automated, or outsourced anywhere on the globe—the benchmark for educational success is no longer measured by state standards, but by the best-performing education systems internationally.”

The new common core state standards are sufficiently rigorous to ensure that the nation’s future workforce will be globally competitive, according to a new report by ACT, Inc. The study, Affirming the Goal: Is College and Career Readiness an Internationally Competitive Standard?, examines how performance benchmarks in reading and math on PLAN, ACT’s tenth-grade college- and career-readiness assessment, measured up against those on the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), a standardized international assessment of fifteen-year-old students’ academic achievement.

“Our findings affirm that college and career readiness is the right goal for U.S. education,” said Jon Erickson, interim president of ACT’s education division. “If we ensure that all U.S. students graduate from high school ready for college and career, we can be confident that we are truly offering them a world-class education.”

ACT defines college and career readiness as the level of preparation a student needs to be ready to enroll and succeed in—without remediation—a first-year, credit-bearing course at two- or four-year institutions or in trade or technical schools. According to the report, the common core state standards in English language arts and mathematics are in line with ACT’s definition.

To perform this analysis, ACT identified PISA scores equivalent to PLAN’s benchmarks for college and career readiness. In reading, the study finds that the college- and career-readiness bar (519) fell within the same range of high-performing countries such as Singapore (526), New Zealand (521), and Australia (515). PLAN’s college- and career-readiness standard is also 26 points higher than the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) average (493) and 19 points higher than current U.S. performance (500).

It is a similar story in mathematics; PLAN’s college- and career-readiness benchmark (530) fell within the same range as countries such as Finland (541), Japan (529), and New Zealand (519). Currently, the United States (487) performs at a level below the OECD average (496).Affirming the Goal finds that Shanghai-China, Korea, and Hong Kong–China outperformed ACT’s college- and career-readiness benchmarks in math and reading with the addition of Finland in reading and Singapore in math.

Historically, PISA results have reinforced the fact that U.S. students significantly lag behind their international peers. In 2009, U.S. students performed below the PISA average in mathematics and barely above the average in reading. While many other countries have shown improvement on PISA scores, the United States’s performance has stagnated.

“In a global economy—where all work can be digitized, automated, or outsourced anywhere on the globe—the benchmark for educational success is no longer measured by state standards, but by the best-performing education systems internationally,” said Andreas Schleicher, head of indicators and analysis division at OECD and director of PISA. “This study provides a robust method to establish the global competitiveness of college- and career-readiness state standards through ACT measurement instruments.”

The analysis involved nearly 2,250 tenth-grade students from seventy-seven high schools across the United States who were tested under standardized conditions on both PLAN and special administration of PISA.

To read the full report, visit http://www.act.org/research/policymakers/reports/affirmingthegoal.html.

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