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Back to October Ed Reporter

Education Reporter
NUMBER 285 THE NEWSPAPER OF EDUCATION RIGHTS OCTOBER 2009

College Entrance Exams Tell Bad News
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Results from both of the major college entrance exams demonstrate that few high school seniors are well-prepared for college. The 2008 ACT, the second-most widely administered college entrance exam, demonstrated that less than a quarter of test-takers who graduated in spring of 2009 demonstrated in all subjects the skills they would need to do well in college. Just as with the SAT, ACT test-takers are a subset of all students, and should be the students most likely to succeed in college.

ACT Inc. surveys thousands of high school and college instructors about the skills students need to succeed in entry-level college courses. The ACT is intended to test these skills, and test-score cutoffs in each subject can predict whether a student has a 75% chance of earning at least a C in an introductory class in that subject. The average composite ACT score in 2008 was 21.1 out of 36. 67% of test-takers met the college-ready benchmark in English, 53% in reading, 42% in math, and 28% in science. Only 23% of students met the college-ready cutoff in all four subjects - meaning that not even one in four test-takers has a 75% chance of earning at least a C in every freshman course. (Education Week, 8-26-09) Given high levels of grade inflation over the past several decades (See Education Reporter, July 2009), a C at most schools does not demonstrate an adequate understanding of course material.

Students who took the SAT last year averaged 515 out of 800 in math, 501 out of 800 in critical reading, and 493 out of 800 in writing. The composite average score on the test was the lowest this decade, and the 510 in critical reading was the lowest since 1994. 46% of students who graduate from high school take the SAT, normally in their junior year for the purpose of college admissions. The test is designed as an objective measure of students' academic abilities and a predictor of their success in college.

The SAT results showed a wide disparity in the scores of various racial and ethnic groups. On the math section, which shows the greatest disparity across different groups, Asian-American students scored 72 points higher than the overall average, and African-American students scored 89 points below the average. Asian-American students showed the most improvement of any racial group, with the average Asian-American test-taker scoring a 587 in math, a six-point improvement over the year before.

Both the ACT and SAT score sets look even worse in light of the billions of new dollars federal and state governments have added to education budgets in the past 25 years. "This is a nearly unrelenting tale of woe and disappointment," said Chester E. Finn Jr. of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. "If there's any good news here, I can't find it."

Gaston Caperton, president of the College Board, was able to find some good news in the fact that more students, from more diverse backgrounds, are now taking the tests. More students took the SAT in 2009 than ever before. About 40% of the 1.53 million test-takers were of minority descent, compared to just 29% of test-takers ten years ago. (Wall Street Journal, 8-26-09)


 
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