Not Prepared: College-Bound High School Students

Not Prepared: College-Bound High School Students
  • Opening Intro -

    Are high school students prepared for college and beyond?

    That answer is a resounding "no" according to a recently published national report from ACT, one of two college entrance testing services.


ACT reports shows significant shortfalls with four testing criteria.

In its 2012 “The Condition of College & Career Readiness” readiness report, the ACT noted that 60 percent of 2012 high school graduates are “at risk” for not succeeding in college or in their careers.

Readiness Benchmarks

The ACT’s annual report examined the 1.7 million students that took its test, finding that 28 percent of all tested students did not meet any of the ACT’s College Readiness Benchmarks in its four categories: English, reading, mathematics and science. Some 15 percent met one benchmark, another 17 percent met two. This means that 60 percent of test takers met two or fewer of the four benchmarks, a recipe for failure in college as well as in their careers.

“Far too many high school graduates are still falling short academically,” said ACT Chief Executive Officer Jon Whitmore. “We need to do more to ensure that our young people improve. The advanced global economy requires American students to perform at their highest level to compete in the future job market and maintain the long-term economic security of the U.S.”

Empirical Data

The ACT’s College Readiness Benchmarks are derived from empirical data based on the grades ACT-tested students earn while in college. Based on its research, the ACT has found that there are certain minimum scores ACT test takers need to achieve to be successful while in college. Students meeting a minimum score have a 75 percent chance of achieving a “C” grade or higher in a first-year college course in the related subject area. That percentage slips to 50 percent for earning a “B” or higher.

Notably, Latin American and African-American students continue to show even low success rates on ACT tests. Not one of the four ACT benchmarks were met by more than one-half of the students in these social demographic groups. The majority of white and Asian American students, however, managed to meet or exceed benchmarks in English, reading and mathematics, but not in science.

Educational Disparities

“The 2012 ACT Condition Report is clear: There is far too much disparity in education outcomes for our students—gaps based on income, ethnicity and race, subject area, and vast differences between those who take the core and those who do not,” said Council of Chief State School Officers Executive Director Gene Wilhoit. “This report is a reminder as to why we’re making sweeping changes in state standards, among other reforms, and that we need to move even more swiftly.”

Not all the news was gloomy. Recent state efforts to shore up STEM — classes in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics — is beginning to pay off. Math and science scores have stabilized or improved slightly, with STEM programs important to help the country remain productive and competitive in a global economy.

Skills Assessment

“Over the years, we’ve seen the impact that inadequate college and career readiness has had on the U.S. economy,” said ACT Workforce President Martin Scaglione. “Employers have said it is becoming increasingly difficult to match their job openings with workers who have proven skills. We must connect academic skill development in K-12 education to the skills these students will need to get a good job. ACT is hard at work developing new initiatives that will help achieve this goal.”

Like the other college entrance test, the SAT, the ACT is seeing an increase in the number of students taking its test. That means more students are planning to attend college, but it also means that such students are falling short in the college and career readiness categories.

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