Nearly one-third of students who took the ACT in 2015 are unprepared for college-level work and did not meet any of the four academic readiness benchmarks, ACT said in a report released Wednesday.
ACT’s annual report on college and career readiness is based on hundreds of thousands of students who take the college admissions test each year. In 2015, more than 1.9 million – or about 59 percent of graduating seniors – took the ACT, up from 49 percent in 2011. The authors of the report note that because fewer than 90 percent of high school graduates took the ACT, the report represents a subset of the student population, rather than the entire class nationwide.
“The needle is barely moving on college and career readiness, and that means far too many young people will continue to struggle after they graduate from high school,” said Jon Whitmore, ACT chief executive officer, in a statement. “This should be a wake-up call for our nation.”
Overall, just 28 percent of the students tested (up from 26 percent in 2014) met all four academic benchmarks, which measure the students’ likelihood of passing an entry-level college course in English, reading, mathematics, or science. Another 12 percent of students tested met three of the four benchmarks.
Racial and ethnic achievement gaps have also persisted, the report shows. Minority students have for the last five years been significantly less likely than white and Asian students to meet any of the academic benchmarks. In mathematics, for example, there is a 55-point gap between the percentage of Asian students and the percentage of African-American students who met the benchmark.
“Our nation’s most underserved students too often are being neglected, trapped in poor education systems and lacking access to critical information and resources in order to navigate the system,” said ACT President Jon Erickson, in a statement. “We simply must do better. It’s time to step up our efforts to provide them and all students with quality tools, skills and behaviors that prepare them for success.”
In several of the subjects, the percentage of students overall who met the subject benchmarks have been flat or falling over the last few years. In English, for example, 64 percent of students tested met the benchmark, and that number has remained flat for three years. And while the percentage of students who met the reading benchmark is up from 44 percent in 2014 to 46 percent in 2015, it’s a drop from the 52 percent who met the benchmark in 2011 and 2012.
“We’ve got to move past the numbers and focus on how this will impact students’ lives,” Whitmore said in the statement. “We’re talking about hundreds of thousands of U.S. high school graduates who won’t earn a two- or four-year college degree because they aren’t academically prepared to do so. In the increasingly competitive job market, where decent jobs are requiring more advanced skills and training, this is a huge problem.”
Going to college underprepared can not only stifle a student’s academic success, but it can also lead to financial problems, according to Paul Weeks, senior vice president for client relations at ACT.
Underprepared students can be put into remedial classes, for which they might not earn credit, for example.
“That’s not only delaying the degree completion time, but that starts to have an impact on the financial part of things,” Weeks said. “Now they’re incurring debt, but they really have nothing to show for it.”
Previous research from ACT also shows that underprepared students are significantly less likely to earn a college degree in a timely manner, if at all. Of the students who met none of the ACT’s benchmarks, fewer than 20 percent earned a two- or four-year degree within six years. By comparison, nearly 60 percent of students who met at least three benchmarks earned a degree in the same timeframe.
One way to improve the outcomes, Weeks said, is to encourage students to take more than the required amount of courses in different subjects, if they’re able to. Students who took more than the core curriculum across subjects were noticeably more likely to meet the ACT’s readiness benchmark, according to the report.
“It always concerns me when we’ve got students going into our systems and they’re not really set up for success,” Weeks said. “They’re going to be discouraged, they’re going to incur debt, and that’s tough to dig out of. As a country, we really can’t afford that.”
Publication Date: 8/26/2015