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Schools need more rigor to prep students for post-high school life

Only 39 percent of students tested met at least three of the four ACT test benchmarks

Most students who took the ACT risk falling behind in college and lack the skills necessary to join the modern workforce, according to a report from the company that offers the test. Meanwhile, 31 percent of students tested did not meet any of the assessment’s college benchmarks, which the report says demonstrates the need for a more rigorous curriculum in U.S. schools.

The ACT College Readiness Benchmarks in English, reading, math, and science are scores that indicate the likelihood a student will bypass remediation and receive a C or higher in an entry-level college course. Only 39 percent of students tested met at least three of the four benchmarks, according to the yearly ACT report, “The Condition of College & Career Readiness 2013.”

Students who meet all four goals enroll in and graduate from college at higher rates, says Paul Weeks, ACT vice president for customer engagement. “What’s disturbing is we have 61 percent of students meeting 0 to 2 benchmarks, meaning they will likely struggle in at least two subject areas in college,” Weeks says.

The ACT was taken by 1.8 million students in 2013, representing 54 percent of the graduating class. The number of students taking the test has grown larger and more diverse over the past five years. Many districts and states are giving the test to all students now, rather than just those who are college-bound, the report states.

“The good news is, we’re seeing relatively steady performance over the last five years, despite a pretty significant increase in the number of students testing, and the mix of students testing,” Weeks says. “But the percentage of students that still aren’t meeting benchmark scores is alarming.”

To improve scores, schools need to deliver the type of rigorous college preparation called for in the Common Core State Standards.

Districts should also give students more information on college, financial aid, and career opportunities early in high school. Knowing what skills they will need to be successful in college or pursue a certain job can help students set goals, Weeks says.

It is increasingly up to teachers, administrators and parents to get this information to students, as budget cuts continue to shrink the number of school guidance counselors, Weeks adds. “The country’s education agenda and economic development agenda are starting to merge,” he says. “If we’re going to be globally competitive, we’ve got to raise the bar and get to students earlier, giving them more opportunities to develop the skills they will need in school.”