Create a free Diverse: Issues In Higher Education account to continue reading

Black Students Lagging in College Readiness Despite Taking Prep Courses

072815_collegeprepEven when African-American students complete the recommended “core or more” college readiness courses in high school, they still don’t meet the “college readiness” benchmarks on the ACT at the same rate as other students, according to a new report released jointly Monday by ACT and UNCF.

Officials at ACT say the statistics—based on national ACT data and a new report titled “The Condition of College & Career Readiness 2014: African American Students”—suggest that African-American students are being subjected to less rigorous instruction than that of their peers who perform better on the ACT.

“We know the impact it can have,” said Steve Kappler, a vice president at ACT, speaking in reference to the impact of rigorous classes and high-quality instruction, or lack thereof.

If students are taking the right courses yet achieving different results, Kappler said, “It’s not necessarily about the students per se. It’s about a system.”

The report released Monday shows that ACT-tested African-American high school students who took the “core curriculum” courses—that is, four years of English, three years of math, science and social studies—routinely met the ACT college readiness benchmarks at a higher rate than African-American high school students who took less than the core curriculum.

More specifically, those who took the “core or more” met the ACT college readiness benchmark at a rate of 36 percent in English, 19 percent in reading, 15 percent in math and 11 percent in science, whereas those who took “less than core” met the benchmarks in those subjects at a rate of 15, 11, 2 and 4 percent, respectively.

However, even though African-American students who took the “core or more” did better than African-American students who did not, when compared to other students nationally who took the core or more, the situation is different.

More specifically, nationally, 67 percent of students who took the core or more met the ACT College Readiness Benchmark in English, 47 met it in reading, 46 in math and 41 in science—essentially anywhere from double to triple the rate of African-American students who took the core or more.

“The findings of this report demonstrate that a vast majority of African-American students desire a postsecondary education, but they’re clearly not prepared for it,” said Michael L. Lomax, president and CEO of UNCF. “We must work together to bridge that gap from aspiration to reality by providing quality education and policies focused on college readiness.”

ACT maintains that students who meet its benchmarks are more likely to succeed in college.

But not everyone was convinced that the ACT findings prove much except disparities in other realms of life that transcend the world of education.

Longtime test critic Robert A. Schaeffer, Public Education Director of FairTest, the National Center for Fair & Open Testing, said many institutions of higher education have found that “benchmarks” are “not particularly helpful, particularly for applicants from historically disenfranchised populations.”

“That is one reason why more and more schools, such as George Washington University, are dropping ACT/SAT standardized exam requirements, instituting test-optional admissions, and relying more heavily on high school course performance,” Schaeffer said, noting an announcement by GWU Monday that it would no longer require most of its incoming freshman applicants to submit college entrance exam scores.

Another wrinkle is that not much is known about the nature of the grades being achieved by students who take the core or more. Even if it were known, grading policies and rigor vary from school to school to the point where it could make comparisons difficult or meaningless.

But for Schaeffer, it wouldn’t matter anyway.

“College admissions tests, such as the ACT, are not designed to measure the same thing as grades in individual high school courses,” he said. “What the standardized exams do best is capture ‘accumulated opportunity,’ a host of factors that go back as far as prenatal experiences.

“As we well know, most African-American and other historically disenfranchised students have not had anywhere the same level of educational, economic, and social opportunities as their peers from majority populations, particularly well-to-do families,” Schaeffer continued. “Thus, it is not surprising that scores remain lower even with identical high course work and instruction.”

Jamaal Abdul-Alim can be reached at [email protected]. Or you can follow him on Twitter @dcwriter360.

A New Track: Fostering Diversity and Equity in Athletics
American sport has always served as a platform for resistance and has been measured and critiqued by how it responds in critical moments of racial and social crises.
Read More
A New Track: Fostering Diversity and Equity in Athletics