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Most High School Students Not Ready for College

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College completion rates and the number of degrees awarded in the United States each year have been continually making headlines, and one new study suggests that nearly two-thirds of our country’s college-bound high school graduates are at risk for low success in college and the workforce.

The Condition of College & Career Readiness 2012 reports that at least 60 percent of likely-bound 2012 high school graduates who took the ACT are at risk of not succeeding in college and the workforce. The Condition of College & Career Readiness is issued each year by ACT, Inc., the nonprofit organization that administers the college-entrance exam with the same name.

What is the ACT?

The ACT is a standardized achievement test that is considered a competitor of the College Board’s SAT. Many colleges and universities use applicants’ test scores as an indicator of their academic success and potential. The test has grown in popularity in recent years and certain states require all high school students to take the ACT to graduate, regardless of whether or not they plan on attending college.

According to ACT, Inc., the exam measures what a student has learned in school. (Conversely, the SAT tests reasoning and verbal abilities.) The ACT is comprised of four mandatory components—English, Math, Reading and Science—and an optional Writing Test is also offered.

A record fifty-two percent of students in the graduating class of 2012, or 1.67 million students, took the ACT this past school year. Just 25 percent of students tested met the benchmarks in all four subjects—the same percentage as last year. That figure had risen each year over the previous three years. Disappointingly, over one-fourth did not meet any of the four College Readiness Benchmarks.

Why Do ACT Scores Matter?

ACT, Inc. defines college and career readiness as “the acquisition of the knowledge and skills a student needs to enroll and succeed in credit-bearing first-year courses at a postsecondary institution (such as a two- or four-year college, trade school, or technical school) without the need for remediation.” ACT has collected and reported data on students’ academic readiness for college since 1959.

A perfect score on the SAT is 36. The average composite score this year was 21.1. Average composite scores have remained stagnant for the past five years. “I was hoping with the focus [in the education community] on career and college readiness, we’d start to see a more dramatic improvement. We are still early in that,” said ACT President Jon Erickson, reports Education Week.

Low ACT Scores May Lead to Remedial College Classes

Scoring low on the ACT or SAT may cause college-bound high school students to be placed in remedial classes, a practice that is becoming increasingly common at community colleges as well as universities. Remedial or “refresher” courses are designed help students catch up in core subjects like math and English. These classes are supposed to prepare students for college-level coursework, yet critics point out that they have many drawbacks, including the fact that tuition is charged yet college credit is not earned for taking them. The nonprofit organization Complete College America suggests that the classes do little or nothing to benefit students.

Complete College America statistics show that over 50 percent of students entering two-year colleges and almost 20 percent of those entering four-year universities are placed in refresher classes. Some students decide to forgo college altogether and less than one in 10 community college students who were placed in remedial courses graduate within three years. The organization’s experts suggest that students would benefit more from receiving extra academic help and tutoring while enrolled in the actual full-credit college-level classes than they do from taking remedial classes as prerequisites.

Are ACT Figures Biased?

According to U.S. News and World Report Education, high school students who are considered “college-ready” in a subject by the ACT Benchmarks have a 75 percent chance of passing a first-year college course in that subject.

FairTest, the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, surmises that the ACT and other standardized test scores do not effectively predict college performance. FairTest states that even ACT, Inc. admits high school grades are a better predictor of first-year college grades.

Getting Ready for College

Rather than rely on test scores as a gauge for success, many states have adopted the Common Core State Standards, a state-led initiative to establish a shared set of clear educational standards for English language arts and mathematics. These standards would help ensure that students who are graduating from high school are prepared for college and/or the workforce.

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Melissa Rhone+

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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