NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Scores Stagnate At High Schools

August 19, 2010

New data show that fewer than 25 percent of 2010 graduates who took the ACT college entrance exam possessed the academic skills necessary to pass entry-level courses.  The results raise questions about how well the nation's high schools are preparing students for college, and show the challenge facing the Obama administration in its effort to raise educational standards, says the Wall Street Journal. 

A recent study found the United States ranks only 12th in the percentage of adults aged 25 to 34 who hold college degrees, though President Obama has set a goal of becoming No. 1.  To accomplish its aims, the administration will need to finesse the cooperation of the powerful teachers unions, Congress, parents and local school officials -- groups that aren't always on the same page when it comes to education reform, says the Journal. 

  • In the recent results, only 24 percent of the graduating class of 2010 scored high enough on the ACT in math, reading, English and science to ensure they would pass entry-level college courses.
  • This is a slight uptick from last year, when 23 percent were ready for college, and from 2008, when 22 percent were ready.
  • Still, 28 percent of students didn't score high enough on even one subject-matter exam to ensure college readiness. 

The average ACT composite score has actually fallen since 2007, after increasing during the five year period before that.  This year, the average composite was 21.0, compared with 21.1 last year and 21.2 in 2007.  The test is scored on a 1-36 point scale.  ACT officials say a more diverse test-taking population partly explains the less-than-stellar results: 

  • African-American and Hispanic students made up 24 percent of the test-taking pool this year, compared with about 19 percent four years ago.
  • African-American and Hispanic students generally post lower scores than their white and Asian counterparts.
  • A weakened high school curriculum is also at fault; the testing data show that even when students take a core curriculum -- defined as four years of English and three years each of math, science and social studies -- they aren't likely to be college-ready. 

Source: Stephanie Banchero, "Scores Stagnate at High Schools," Wall Street Journal, August 18, 2010. 

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