The annual Condition of College and Career Readiness Report was issued by ACT, Inc. earlier this week and results have caused mixed reactions among educators, officials, and academic experts. Although the number of high school students taking the ACT is increasing, their scores are not.
The ACT is a standardized college entrance exam comprised of four sections: English, mathematics, reading and science. Each section is scored on a scale from 1 to 36 and a student’s composite score is calculated based on the average of their scores for all four sections.
Rival test SAT is still the country’s most popular college entrance exam, but the ACT is catching up quickly. This year, a record 1.57 million students took the ACT— a 30 percent increase from 5 years ago— and the number of test-takers has grown steadily, by roughly 100,000 students a year, in the intervening years. The ACT is growing as more states make the exam a graduation requirement for all high school seniors.
Inside Higher Ed explains that nearly half of all 2010 high-school graduates took the ACT, and in seven states— Colorado, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan, North Dakota, Tennessee and Wyoming— all high school graduates are required to have taken the test as part of a statewide assessment. More states hope to implement such a policy in coming years.
Cynthia Schmeiser, president and chief operating officer of ACT’s education division, told the Associated Press that the ACT’s test-taking population “now includes virtually all students in eight states, many of whom might not have considered taking a college and career readiness assessment years ago.”
Average ACT scores were down compared to last year—- 2010 high school seniors averaged a composite score of 21.0 while 2009 graduates had an average composite score of 21.1—- yet slightly more students who took the ACT proved ready for college. Although 71 percent of 2010 ACT-tested high school graduates met at least one of the four college readiness benchmarks, only 24 percent of test takers met or surpassed the benchmarks in all four subject areas. This is actually an increase, up from 23 percent last year and 21 percent in 2006.
“It’s slow progress. We are headed in the right direction,” were the words that Cynthia Schmeiser used to describe the data.
A Wall Street Journal article reported that the data is still disturbing despite the increase in college readiness because the figures show that less than one-quarter of high school graduates possess the academic skills necessary to pass entry-level college courses. Even more troubling, the report also found that a total of 43 percent of students who took the ACT met none or only one of the four subject area college readiness benchmarks.
Some experts say that the lack of rigor in high-school courses is partly to blame.“High schools are the downfall of American school reform,” said Jack Jennings, president of the Center on Education Policy, a nonpartisan research organization in Washington. “We haven’t figured out how to improve them on a broad scope and if our kids aren’t dropping out physically, they are dropping out mentally.”
A recent study found that the United States ranks 12th in the world for the number of adults between the ages of 25 and 34 who hold college degrees, and President Barack Obama has set a goal of becoming number one.
The complete 2010 Condition of College and Career Readiness Report can be found at the ACT website.
Melissa Rhone earned her Bachelor of Music in Education from the University of Tampa. She resides in the Tampa Bay area and enjoys writing about college, pop culture, and epilepsy awareness.
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