The first day of the school year is a good time to look further ahead. How well will this school year prepare students for the next, and, ultimately, for college and career?
That prep needs to start long before high school.
“The level of academic achievement that students attain by eighth grade has a larger impact on their college career readiness by the time they graduate from high school than anything that happens academically in high school,” according to “The Forgotten Middle,” a 2008 research report by ACT, the college testing service.
“Early exposure to rigorous courses can help ensure that students are on target for college and career,” ACT says.
Last week brought good news that Montana’s high school class of 2010 scored higher than the national average on the ACT college entrance exam. Yet analysis of scores shows there’s plenty of room for improvement.
“We are setting expectations that every student will graduate college and career ready,” Montana Superintendent of Public Instruction Denise Juneau said last week in a phone interview.
Juneau has proposed that the state pay for all high school juniors to take the ACT. With 100 percent participation, Montana would have a better picture of how well prepared the class is. Juneau notes that 58 percent of the 2010 Montana graduating class took the ACT, an increase over previous years.
In another positive development, remediation rates at state universities are declining, because fewer incoming students need remedial classes.
Montana is working on several statewide initiatives keep college readiness trends moving in the right direction. Juneau and Gov. Brian Schweitzer signed onto the National Core Standards Initiative, which the Montana Board of Public Education will be considering next spring.
“What I’m hoping comes out of this is a bridge between high school and college English comp and algebra,” Juneau said. Her aim is to make it clear to parents and students what they need to do to prepare for college.
Meanwhile, the Montana Math and Science Teacher Initiative is encouraging professional development for teachers. Juneau also expects the state’s switch to full-time kindergarten three years ago will pay big dividends in academic success in future years.
Room for improvement
Twenty-eight percent of the Montana class of 2010 scored high enough in each ACT subject area (English, math, reading and science) to meet the benchmark indicating that they would probably get at least a C on an introductory college course. However, 72 percent didn’t. (Montana students still did better than the national average of only 24 percent.)
In “A Nation at Risk,” the National Commission on Excellence in Education recommends a core high school curriculum that includes, at a minimum:
• Four years of English.
• Three years of math.
• Three years of science.
• Three years of social studies.
According to ACT research, students who take that core curriculum in high school are more likely to score at or above the benchmark and, as a result, are more likely to complete a college degree.
In Montana, the 2010 grads who had taken that recommended core had an average composite score of 23.1, compared with an average of 19.9 for students who didn’t complete the core. (36 is a perfect score.)
To provide students with the best opportunity for success after high school, start with a solid foundation of reading skills in primary grades and continue with an emphasis on rigorous courses as students progress through middle and high school. The first day of school is really another step toward college and career.