ACT linking study provides guidance on international benchmarking of U.S. college and career readiness

Lauren Williams's picture
Thursday, December 5, 2013

The latest PISA test results confirm that 15-year-old students in the U.S. still have significant strides to make to catch up with their peers in other economically advanced countries. Average scores for U.S. students on both math and reading PISA assessments remained virtually unchanged.

To help guide states and policymakers in determining if students who meet college readiness benchmarks are competitive on an international level, ACT conducted a linking analysis to gauge how college readiness benchmark scores on its own assessment for 10th graders, ACT Plan, stack up against PISA scores.

“Rigorous standards have to be supported by assessments that accurately gauge how thoroughly students have grasped those standards,” said Wayne Camara, ACT senior vice president of research.

“Our findings indicate that students who meet ACT’s benchmarks for college and career readiness are performing at or above the same level as their peers internationally.”

The ACT report, Affirming the Goal: Is College and Career Readiness an Internationally Competitive Standard?, showed that students who meet ACT’s Grade 10 College Readiness Benchmarks in reading and math are competitive with the performance of same-age students in the highest-performing countries globally. The study was conducted with support and guidance from both the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), which administers the PISA, and the National Center for Education Statistics.

ACT data also show that many students are falling short of college and career readiness. ACT’s Condition of College and Career Readiness 2013 report, released in August, found that 64 percent of 2013 U.S. high school graduates who took the ACT college readiness exam met or surpassed the ACT College Readiness Benchmark in English, while only 44 percent met or surpassed the benchmark in math.

Dr. Camara will provide insight into the latest PISA results during the Alliance for Excellent Education’s live streaming PISA Day event today. Other featured speakers include U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and top officials from the Council of Chief State School Officers and the OECD.

ACT’s linking analysis was based on 2,248 U.S. 10th grade students from 77 high schools who tested under standardized conditions with both ACT Plan and a special administration of the PISA. Following are among the specific findings of ACT’s research:

The ACT College Readiness Benchmark score for reading on ACT Plan is equivalent to a 519 score on PISA reading, which was 26 points higher than the OECD average score in 2009 and 27 points higher than the 2012 average.

In math, meeting ACT’s corresponding Grade 10 benchmark score is equivalent to scoring 530 on PISA Mathematics, 34 points higher than the OECD average score in 2009 and 28 points higher than the average score in 2012.

Only eight nations each out of 64 participating countries on the 2009 PISA had average scores that were higher than these ACT benchmark-equivalent scores in reading and math.

ACT is a mission-driven, nonprofit organization dedicated to helping people achieve education and workplace success. Headquartered in Iowa City, Iowa, ACT is trusted as the nation’s leader in college and career readiness, providing high-quality achievement assessments grounded in more than 50 years of research and experience. ACT offers a uniquely integrated set of solutions that help people succeed from kindergarten through career, providing insights that unlock potential.

To learn more about ACT, go to