Most U.S. high school graduates aren’t ready to succeed in college, according to a recent report by ACT, the independent, nonprofit college testing company.
Nationally, only 25 percent of 2011 high school graduates tested by ACT met readiness benchmarks in all four core subjects: English, reading, math and science.
ACT defines readiness as having at least a 75 percent probability of getting a C or better in freshman college courses, or at least a 50 percent chance of earning a B or higher.
That’s a reasonable measure. Students unlikely to earn at least a C are unlikely to earn a degree.
How does Montana measure up?
Montana student scores have improved in the past five years, Superintendent of Public Instruction Denise Juneau points out. And Montana students’ average composite score of 22.1 is above the national average of 21.1.
However, in Montana, only about 58 percent of the class of 2011 took the ACT. Most of them were planning on going to college and paid for the test themselves as part of the admission process.
A few states, including Wyoming, provide the test to 100 percent of students. So in Wyoming, the average 2011 score of 20.3 reflects the entire class, regardless of whether the student is thinking about college.
Testing all students provides a fuller picture of how well the state’s public schools are doing to prepare students for college and careers. Wyoming’s scores show room for improvement: only 24 percent of its grads tested ready for college biology and only 36 percent were ready for college algebra.
Montana also has need for improvement. Among its test takers only 35 percent met the science benchmark and 53 percent met the math benchmark. The best performance was in English where 75 percent met the readiness benchmark. That leaves 1 in 4 prospective college students in need of remedial English and nearly half needing remedial math.
Among Montana students who reported interest in health care careers, only 22 percent tested ready for college biology.
The key to preparing students for college and career is starting early.
“Progress must be monitored closely so that deficiencies in foundational skills can be identified and remediated early, in upper elementary and middle school,” the ACT report said.
Other practices that boost college and career readiness include:
Common Core Standards, which state leaders developed collaboratively and 45 states have already adopted.
Rigorous high school courses. “Students who take a rigorous core curriculum should be ready for credit-bearing, first-year college courses without remediation,” the report said.
During the 2011 Legislature, Juneau proposed allowing all high school juniors to take the ACT test by having the state cover the testing fees, but the proposal wasn’t adopted.
She has also recommended that the Montana Board of Public Education adopt the Common Core State Standards in English and math. These standards are higher and clearer than current standards and are aligned with college and career expectations.
Educators and state policy makers need to be working on college/career readiness for the class of 2020 — students starting fourth grade this month.
Meanwhile, parents and students in the class of 2012 will want to keep in mind one more set of numbers: ACT benchmarks for college readiness are scores of at least 18 in English, 21 in reading, 22 in math and 24 in science.