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MATH PROBLEM: Report Finds That Over Half of Recent High School Grads Aren’t College Ready

"This increase is particularly impressive, given that 11 percent more high school graduates took the ACT in 2007 than in 2003."

Though slightly more of the Class of 2007 was found to be college ready in math than the Class of 2003, the majority still fell short of the ACT College Readiness Benchmark. So says the recently released EPAS State of the Nation Report 2007: Mathematics.

The report, which examines results on research group ACT’s Educational Planning and Assessment System (EPAS) math assessments for eighth through twelfth graders, finds that 43 percent of Class of 2007 high school graduates met the benchmark-that is, they earned a score of twenty-two out of thirty-six on the ACT Mathematics test-compared to 40 percent of Class of 2003 graduates. Significantly fewer students of color were found to be ready for college math; just 26 percent of Hispanic students, 24 percent of American Indian students, and 12 percent of African American students met the benchmark, compared to 49 percent of white students.

The average score on the ACT Mathematics test, which is a standardized assessment used for college admission, climbed 0.4 points between 2003 and 2007, to twenty-one. “This increase is particularly impressive,” the report reads, “given that 11 percent more high school graduates took the ACT in 2007 than in 2003.”

However, despite the gains in overall scores and the percentage of students considered college ready, fewer of the Class of 2007 graduates were ready for college math than expected based on their eighth-grade math results. Of the students who took EXPLORE and PLAN (ACT’s eighth- and tenth-grade assessments) as well as the ACT Mathematics test, 48 percent of the eighth-graders were thought to be on target to be ready for college math, but by twelfth grade, just 41 percent had achieved that objective. “This finding raises questions about the type and quality of mathematics courses students take in high school,” says the report.

Graduates who studied a minimum core curriculum of Algebra I, geometry, and Algebra II were about twice as likely to be college-ready in math as those who did not, with 27 percent and 13 percent of them meeting the ACT benchmark, respectively. As the chart below indicates, the more advanced math that students in the Class of 2007 took, the more likely they were to achieve a score of twenty-two or higher on the ACT Mathematics test.

To ensure that all students are prepared for college-level mathematics, ACT recommends that students be encouraged to take the core curriculum and higher-level courses, as only 50 percent of those who participated in the assessment reported taking the core courses. In addition, because only about a quarter of graduates who took the core curriculum were considered college ready, ACT also calls for high school math course content to be reviewed and, in most cases, to be made more rigorous. The mathematics curriculum should also be aligned with high school and college- and work-readiness standards, says ACT, given the “strong association” between preparedness for college and postsecondary academic success. “Being ready for college-level mathematics improves students’ chances of enrolling in college, staying in college, and succeeding in first-year courses, and reduces the likelihood of their needing to take remedial courses,” the report reads.Though extolling the taking of additional math courses, the authors of the report add that “students should not have to take more and more coursework simply in order to meet minimum standards for college readiness in mathematics.”

The full report is available at

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