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READY FOR COLLEGE AND READY FOR WORK: Report Finds that All High School Students Need Rigorous Curriculum, Regardless of Their Post-Graduation Plans

“We can’t afford to have one expectation for students who plan to attend college and another for those who plan to enter the workforce or workforce training programs after high school,” said ACT CEO Richard L. Ferguson

High school graduates planning to enter the workforce need academic skills similar to those needed by students planning to enter college. So says Ready for College and Ready for Work: Same or Different?, a new policy brief from ACT that attempts to blunt the argument that students who plan to go to college need a more rigorous course load than students who expect to go directly into the workforce after high school graduation.

“We can’t afford to have one expectation for students who plan to attend college and another for those who plan to enter the workforce or workforce training programs after high school,” said ACT CEO Richard L. Ferguson. “If we educate some students to a lesser standard than others, we narrow their options to jobs that, in today’s economy, no longer pay well enough to support a family.”

In the knowledge-based economy of the 21st century, employers seek entry-level workers who have the same knowledge and skills as college-going students, the report finds. Without these skills, graduates are likely to have difficulty finding a job that pays well enough to sustain a family of four. “Widening access to the American dream through public education has always been one of the foundations of our society, and it is more critical than ever to our ability to remain competitive in today’s global economy,” the report reads.

To determine what constitutes workforce readiness, ACT used data from a comprehensive national database of job and worker attributes that was developed for the U.S. Department of Labor. Within the database, each job is classified into one of five zones depending on the types of education, training, and experience it requires. The report focused on jobs in Zone 3 because they were likely to offer a “wage sufficient to support a small family, provide the potential for career advancement, and projected to increase in the future.” Zone 3 jobs include electricians, construction workers, and plumbers and are the highest zone to not require a bachelor’s degree, but they often require a combination of vocational training and on-the-job experience.

ACT then determined the levels of reading and math skills that were needed to qualify for one of these jobs and compared them to the College Readiness Benchmarks on its ACT college admission and placement exam. The benchmark score on the ACT reflects the score that students need to earn to have a 75% or greater chance of obtaining a course grade of C or better in that subject when in college. For reading, the benchmark score is 21; for math, it is 22. To be considered prepared for the workforce, students would need to score between 19 and 23 on the ACT in math and in reading, a comparable range to the score students need to be considered college-ready. Given this similarity, the report concludes that graduates entering the workforce need the same preparation as those going to college.

“In today’s increasingly technological society, more and more jobs that offer the potential for good wages and future growth are requiring at least some type of training or education beyond high school,” said Ferguson. “Students who graduate from high school without the skills they need for college are also likely to lack the skills they need to successfully complete job training programs.”

To ensure that every student is adequately prepared, the report says that all high school students, regardless of their post-graduation plans, should take a rigorous core preparatory course load in high school. Among its other recommendations are state standards that reflect the skills needed for college and workforce readiness, and a measurement of student progress with aligned assessments beginning as early as eighth grade to monitor progress and to make the appropriate interventions.

The complete policy brief is available at


ACT Requesting Feedback on Framework for 2011 NAEP in Writing


ACT, working under the direction of the National Assessment Governing Board, is developing a new writing framework for the U.S. Department of Education’s National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) for 2011 and beyond. The framework will reflect current best practices in writing instruction and assessment and begin a new trend line that will be the basis for the assessment through the early 2020s. In addition, the 2011 NAEP in Writing will be designed to assess 12th-grade students’ preparedness for writing expectations in college, in the workplace, and in the military.

ACT is seeking comments on initial recommendations for the content and design of the new framework. The preliminary recommendations are available online for review and feedback at More information, as well as additional instructions on how to offer comments, can also be found on the site. The deadline for comments is May 26.


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Every Child a Graduate. Every Child Prepared for Life.