Although the number of students taking the ACT college-readiness assessment continues to increase, large percentages of high school graduates continue to fail to meet college-readiness benchmarks in key subjects. According to The Condition of College & Career Readiness 2014, released last month by ACT, only 26 percent of high school graduates from the Class of 2014—the same percentage as last year—met the college-readiness benchmark in all four subjects tested on the ACT.1
Among individual subjects, 64 percent of graduates met the college-readiness benchmark in English while the percentages were lower in reading (44 percent), mathematics (43 percent), and science (37 percent). These percentages were roughly unchanged from the previous year.
“High school performance has been flat for more than a decade,” Alliance for Excellent Education Senior Fellow Robert Rothman told Education Week. “We’ve seen it on NAEP, we’ve seen it on [the global] PISA [exam], and now we see it again on the ACT. The good news is that graduation rates have gone up. Students are staying in school, but they are not achieving any more. Young people are not going to succeed in college or the workplace at the current levels of performance.”
Approximately 40 percent of high school graduates met at least three benchmarks, but 31 percent of graduates failed to meet the college-readiness benchmark in any subject. When broken down by race/ethnicity, the data reveals continued achievement gaps between white students and students of color. As shown in the graph below, Asian (57 percent) and white (49 percent) students were much more likely to meet at least three benchmarks compared to Pacific Islander (24 percent), Hispanic (23 percent), American Indian (18 percent), and African American (11 percent) students. These gaps have remained relatively unchanged since 2010. (Click on the image below for a larger version).
“Achievement gaps can be stubbornly difficult to close,” said Jon Erickson, ACT president of education and career solutions. “We must ramp up our efforts to ensure that underserved students receive the same resources and educational opportunities as their peers. This is particularly important given recent media reports that this year, for the first time, the majority of U.S. public school students will not be white.”
The good news is that more students overall and more students of color are taking the ACT. Nationally, more than 1.8 million students, or 57 percent of the graduating Class of 2014, took the ACT—an increase of 18 percent since 2010. During the same time period, the testing pool has become more diverse, with the percentage of Hispanics taking the ACT increasing from 10 percent to 15 percent and the percentage of white students decreasing from 62 percent to 56 percent. The percentages of Asian, African American, and American Indian students taking the test has largely remained the same.
“The increases we are experiencing are good news for the nation, as they point to growing interest in higher education among our young people,” said Jon Whitmore, ACT chief executive officer. “In today’s global economy, it is more important than ever for individuals to continue their education beyond high school. The skills needed to compete in the job market are becoming increasingly advanced.”
The report also finds that 86 percent of the high school graduates from the Class of 2014 hoped to enroll in postsecondary education, which is down slightly from 87 percent for the Class of 2013. However, only 69 percent of the Class of 2013 actually enrolled in postsecondary education, meaning that nearly 315,000 graduates failed to do so.
The report offers several recommendations for how states, districts, schools, and classrooms can increase student readiness for college-level work, including high-quality assessment systems, rigorous high school core curricula, early warning systems that help educators identify and intervene with at-risk students, and “thoughtful and fair” teacher evaluation systems that include multiple measures of performance, among others.
The complete report is available at http://www.act.org/research/policymakers/cccr14/about.html.
1 According to the report, the ACT college-readiness benchmarks are scores on the ACT subject-area tests that “represent the level of achievement required for students to have a 50 percent chance of obtaining a B or higher or about a 75 percent chance of obtaining a C or higher in corresponding credit-bearing first-year college courses.”