NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


August 23, 2005

According to an ACT yearly report, only about half of this year's high school graduates have the reading skills they need to succeed in college, and even fewer are prepared for college-level science and math courses.

The report, based on the 2005 scores of 1.2 million high school graduates, found that fewer than one in four students met the college-readiness benchmarks in all four subjects tested: reading comprehension, English, math and science.

  • The benchmarks indicate the skill level at which a student has a 70 percent likelihood of earning a C or better, and a 50 percent chance of earning a B or better.
  • About 68 percent achieved the benchmark in English, 41 percent had scores indicating success in college algebra and 26 percent showed a likelihood of success in biology.
  • About 40 percent of the nation's 2005 high school graduates took the ACT, and the average overall score, 20.9 of a possible 36, was unchanged from the year before.

Moreover, low scores in various subject areas show that too many students are not taking the kind of rigorous high school courses that will prepare them for college and will likely struggle or need some remediation in college.

  • About half lack some reading-comprehension skills, suggesting they would struggle in history, sociology or literature courses, and 51 percent had scores high enough to suggest they could succeed in college-level social science courses.
  • Those who do complete the core curriculum are far more likely to meet college-readiness standards, but the percentage of completion is falling.

Additionally, there is a continuing decline in the percentage of students planning to major in engineering, computer science and education.

Source: Tamar Lewin, "Many Going To College Aren't Ready, Report Finds," New York Times, August 17, 2005; Mary Beth Marklein, "Many incoming freshmen aren't prepared for college," USA Today, August 16, 2005; based upon: "National Data Release: Average National ACT Score Unchanged in 2005; Students Graduate for High School Ready or Not," ACT Newsroom, August 17, 2005.

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