High School Grads Miss Mark

Ben Wieder
August 22, 2012

Despite improvements across the board, the majority of high school graduates still aren’t college or career ready, according to a report released today (August 22) by ACT, which administers the ACT college entrance test.

More than half of graduating seniors in 2012 took the ACT exam and of those 1.66 million tested students, only one in four met college readiness benchmarks in English, reading, math and science.

“Far too many high school graduates are still falling short academically,” John Whitmore, ACT’s chief executive officer, said in a statement. “We need to do more to ensure that our young people improve.”

Massachusetts students had the highest average ACT scores of students in any state, but fewer than one in four Massachusetts graduates took the exam. Among states where more than 50 percent of students took the ACT, Minnesota students had the highest overall average test scores, at 22.8 out of a possible 36 points, though that represented a slight decline from the previous year. Mississippi students had the lowest average of those states, at 18.7, unchanged from the previous year.

Tennessee is one of seven states that require all students to take the ACT. The average score increased slightly this year, to 19.7 from 19.5 last year. While those scores in the state are still near the bottom nationally, officials there saw reasons for optimism.

“It’s the right trend,” says Kelli Gauthier, a spokeswoman for the Department of Education. “One of our goals is to become the fastest-improving state in the nation.” Still, she concedes that the state has a long way to go.

Nationally, a number of states have moved to adopt stronger standards, in part to bolster applications for the federal Race to the Top program grants and qualify for waivers from some provisions of the federal No Child Left Behind law. Forty-five states have signed on for the Common Core standards, which set benchmarks for what students should be learning in Math and English. Those new standards, developed jointly by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers with the help of teachers, school administrators and experts, will begin to be tested in the 2014-15 school year.

Two consortia of states, the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium and the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness and College Careers are developing standardized tests based on the Common Core standards. Recently, ACT announced that it too will offer standardized tests that are aligned with those standards and also test science and behavioral measures.

This article was originally published by Stateline, a nonpartisan, nonprofit news service of the Pew Center on the States that reports and analyzes trends in state policy.  It is reprinted here with permission.