ACT Report Finds Most in 2012 High School Class Not College Ready

Updated Sep 5, 2012

As high school graduates from the Class of 2012 prepare to begin their first year of college, a new report released Wednesday by ACT says the vast majority of those students are not academically ready for the college experience.

The lack of college readiness is particularly pronounced among Hispanic and African-American students, according to the report, titled “The Condition of College & Career Readiness: 2012,” which looked at readiness in English, reading, math and science.

Experts chimed in and said the results – while not surprising or new – serve as further evidence that America’s K-12 system is broken and in need of solutions that range from blending college with high school to decreased reliance on test scores and increased efforts to ensure that a high school diploma actually signifies college readiness.

ACT officials noted that the population of 1.66 million ACT test-takers in 2012 is larger and more diverse an more reflective of the overall U.S. population than ever before, and that nine states required virtually all high school graduates to take the ACT.

While the overall scores are bothersome, the ACT report shows that they are relatively unchanged from last year.

The gaps along racial and ethnic lines turned up in the report mirror other disparities in achievement at the K-12 level, experts noted.

“The question for colleges and universities, as well as K-12 schools, is whether the admission exams — ACT in this instance — are telling them anything they don’t already know,” said David Hawkins, director of Public Policy and Research
at the Arlington, Va.-based National Association for College Admission Counseling.

“As a point of reference, though, the ACT results here confirm the need for higher standards and expectations, paired with a significant investment in instruction, school supports, and the continuum of services needed to ensure that students are able to succeed in rigorous classes, since access to classes alone will not ensure success,” Hawkins said.

Overall, only 25 percent of all ACT-tested high school graduates met benchmarks in all four subjects of English, reading, math and science.

Most students – 67 percent – met benchmarks in English, but students fared progressively worse in reading, mathematics and science, with only 52, 46 and 31 percent of students, respectively, meeting benchmarks in those subjects.

The performance rates worsen when looked at among minority students.

Specifically, according to the ACT, fewer than half of all African-American and Hispanic students met any one of the readiness benchmarks in any one of the four subjects, whereas most Asian American and White students met or surpassed the benchmarks in all subjects except science.

Hawkins, of NACAC, said it has been long known that inequities in the K-12 education system produce consistent disparities in educational outcomes among populations not traditionally represented in four-year colleges and universities, including racial and ethnic minorities.

“The ACT report adds another piece of evidence to this story,” Hawkins said.

He said colleges and universities “must look beyond test scores and understand more about individual students’ educational and life paths to obtain a more complete definition of educational success.”

“At the same time, colleges and universities must make a nuanced judgment about whether a student’s academic indicators, including grades and test scores, are indicative of the student’s ability to succeed in postsecondary education,” Hawkins said.

Nancy Hoffman, Vice President and Senior Advisor at the Boston, Mass.-based Jobs for the Future, a nonprofit that advocates for policies to boost college and career readiness among struggling and low-income populations, said early colleges – high schools where students can take college courses and earn an associate’s degree along with their high school diploma — represent one way to get more students prepared for college.

“(Our) particular solution is to integrate college with high school so that students don’t start under or unprepared,” Hoffman said of the early college initiative overseen by JFF.

To bolster her case, she cited testimony that JFF’s Joel Vargas, Vice President for High School through College program, recently gave to the Senate HELP committee about how starting college in high school – coupled with social and academic support — better enables students to earn college credits without remediation.