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High School Students Not Prepared for College, Career

More than 60 percent of 2012 graduates are not adequately prepared for college, a report states.

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College entrance exam scores show most students aren’t prepared for college.
College entrance exam scores show most students aren’t prepared for college.

Nearly 1.7 million high school graduates took the ACT college entrance exam in 2012, testing their knowledge of four core subjects—English, math, science, and reading. But most of those students are not prepped for success in college or the workforce, according to a report released today by ACT, Inc.

More than a quarter of 2012 graduates fell short of college readiness benchmarks that ACT sets for all four subjects, and 60 percent of students tested missed the mark in at least two of the four subjects, the report states.

Students deemed college-ready in a subject have a 75 percent chance of passing a first-year college course in that area. The nonprofit research and testing organization uses historical testing data to determine the level of expertise students need to succeed in those courses at a college, trade school, or technical school.

College readiness in English and math has remained largely unchanged for the past five years, but science and math scores increased slightly from 2008 to 2012.

[Find out why science and math lessons aren't sticking.]

"To the lay-citizen it would look like 3 points is not much," says Charles Smith, vice president of strategic communication at ACT. "The fact that it's trending upward is significant. That's a positive."

Still, the two subjects continue to be areas where students need to make up the most ground. Only 31 percent of students demonstrated the level of science expertise needed to succeed in entry-level college courses, and more than half were not prepared for college math courses.

"State-level initiatives related to STEM—science, technology, engineering, and math—may well have helped move the needle in math and science … There is clearly more work to be done," says Jon Erickson, president of the Education Division at ACT.

Much of that work needs to be done among minority students, according to the report. Only 23 percent of African American, Hispanic, and American Indian students tested hit the math benchmark, and fewer than 15 percent were prepared for college-level science courses. More than half of those students failed to hit even one benchmark in 2012.

[Read why minority students need STEM role models.]

Many states have already taken steps to improve college and career readiness, adopting the Common Core State Standards and implementing STEM initiatives. Monitoring students' progress in key subjects from an early age can help educators ensure students achieve the level of expertise needed to succeed after high school, the report states.

"The best way to help students prepare for successful futures is by monitoring their achievement ... and providing help whenever we find they are not on track for success," says Jon Whitmore, chief executive officer at ACT.

Ensuring these high school students, particularly minority students, are prepared to enter the workforce is critical not only to the students' success, but to economic success, as many companies struggle to find graduates with the requisite skill set.

"We need to do more to ensure that our young people improve," Whitmore says. "The advanced global economy requires American students to perform at their highest level to compete in the future job market and maintain the long-term economic security of the U.S."

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