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ACT Provides Insight on the Common Core State Standards and College Readiness Levels

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ACT, Inc. released a new report on December 6, 2010 intended to assist states as they begin implementing the Common Core State Standards, a U.S. education initiative announced on June 1, 2009.

A state-led effort coordinated by the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and the Council of Chief State School Officers, the Common Core State Standards were developed in collaboration with teachers, school administrators and experts to provide a framework to properly prepare American children for college and the workforce.

About the Common Core State Standards

According to the Common Core State Standards website, the Standards:

  • Are aligned with college and work expectations
  • Are clear, understandable and consistent
  • Include rigorous content and application of knowledge through high-order skills
  • Build upon strengths and lessons of current state standards
  • Are informed by other top performing countries, so that all students are prepared to succeed in our global economy and society
  • Are evidence-based

Implementing the Common Core State Standards to Increase College and Career Readiness

As of October 2010, forty-one states have adopted the Standards, and implementing the Standards by realizing their purpose of increasing college and career readiness of high school graduates has now taken on primary importance.

ACT, the Iowa City-based nonprofit organization best-known for its college entrance exam, played a leading role in the development of the Common Core State Standards and ACT’s newly-issued research report, First Look at the Common Core and College Readiness, is the first of its kind.

First Look provides an estimate of current student performance on the Standards using ACT college- and career-readiness data. It also provides recommendations for local educators and the state and federal policymakers that will be particularly helpful to the states that are moving from adoption to implementation of the common standards.

According to the report’s findings, the states adopting the Common Core State Standards have work to do to bring their students up to college and career readiness levels.

One-Third to One-Half of High School Juniors are Not Ready for College

First Look analyzed the test results of over 250,000 unique 11th grade students in several states that were administered select forms of the ACT Plus Writing exam in Spring 2010 as part of their states’ annual testing programs. The students represented in the report are a typical representation of students in high schools around the country—they span a range of abilities and college aspirations, are from a variety of communities and schools, and include those tested under standard conditions and under special accommodations.

Since official performance indicators have not yet been established for the Common Core State Standards, First Look uses ACT’s research-based College Readiness Benchmarks to estimate college- and career-ready performance levels on each of the clusters of Common Core State Standards.

Using these benchmarks, ACT found that across all Common Core domains, strands, and clusters, only one-third to one-half of the 11th grade students included are reaching a college and career readiness level of achievement.

ACT Warns that Results Should Be Read with Caution

ACT warns that their findings should be used with caution because they are based on results of students who were administered the ACT as part of their statewide assessment before the adoption of the Common Core State Standards.

Considering that the states were teaching to and assessing different sets of standards, it can be argued that students were not adequately prepared for an assessment of the Common Core State Standards, but the analysis is intended to shed light on current student achievement levels relative to the Common Core State Standards.

“ACT has been measuring the mathematics, reading, and writing skills included in the Common Core State Standards for many years. Through our work with the College Readiness Standard, College Readiness Benchmarks, and the National Curriculum Survey, we know what skills are needed to be college ready. The Common Core standards are very much aligned with our data,” said Sherri Miller, assistant vice president, Educational Planning and Assessment Systems, ACT Education Division.


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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