While record numbers of high school students took the ACT Assessment college entrance exam in 2005, recently released national and state data revealed that a majority of high school graduates lack college-level skills in reading, English, math, and science. In a bit of good news, the number of minority students taking the ACT is increasing, indicating that more minorities are thinking about college. Since 2001, the number of Hispanic students taking the ACT has increased by 40 percent, while the number of African-American students has increased by 23 percent over the same time frame. However, achievement gaps still remain, with Asian-American students once again earning the highest average composite score, at 22.1, white students coming in second at 21.9, followed by Native American students (18.7), Hispanic students (18.6), and African-American students (17.0). (The ACT is scored on a scale of 1 to 36).
“It’s wonderful that more and more students who might not have considered college several years ago are now making plans for education beyond high school,” said Richard L. Ferguson, ACT’s chief executive officer. “However, there are too many students who graduated this year without all of the skills they need to be ready for college or job training.”
According to ACT’s new College Readiness Benchmark in reading, only half of test takers have adequate college-level skills in reading comprehension. Based on past ACT scores, students who receive at least a 21 on the ACT Reading Test are very likely to “succeed” (defined as earning a C grade or higher) in college-level courses such as history, sociology, literature, and others that require extensive reading. Only 51 percent of 2005 graduates who took the ACT met or exceeded this benchmark.
This year’s scores also show virtually no improvement in the percentage of students who met or exceeded the ACT College Readiness Benchmark in English, math, or science, with scores even more dismal than the reading scores. Just 41 percent of test takers scored at the benchmark or higher on the ACT Math Test and only 26 percent scored at the benchmark or higher on the ACT Science Test. Sixty-eight percent of test takers scored at or above the benchmark in English, the same percentage as the year before.
ACT reports that this lack of college preparation is the result of students not taking the right kind of coursework in high school to prepare them for college and work. In fact, ACT reports that just more than half (55 percent) of test takers reported taking the recommended “core” curriculum for college-bound students of four years of English and three years each of math (algebra and higher), science, and social studies. And even when the right courses are taken, they often lack the rigor or focus on the higher-level course content that students need to learn.
Arriving at high school without the proper skills to succeed is also a problem for many students. “We need to identify students at much earlier grades-eighth grade and earlier-and make sure they have a solid foundation of basic knowledge and skills needed for rigorous high school-level courses,” said Ferguson. “Only then will it be possible to graduate students who are all ready for college or job training.”
2005 ACT national and state scores are available at http://www.act.org/news/data/05/index.html.