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May 4, 2015

ACT now, before time runs out!

In a report released by ACT, the testing company once again sought to explain into the concept of career readiness (part of the now common terminology “college and career readiness”) and to explain what it is in particular that so many students are desired to have and what schools are expected to impart, as well as how best to measure it.

The brief report begins by explaining that college and career readiness are often considered to be measured by the same assessments, however there are several significant differences between these two and that college readiness and career readiness are best measured separately. Stemming from misinterpretations of ACT’s 2006 Ready for College and Ready for Work report, the intention was to highlight that those students who choose to enter the workforce after high school still benefit significantly in school from exposure to academically rigorous standards as do those students preparing for college. Apparently, some saw this to say that by assessing the skills that serve as foundational components of both college readiness and career readiness that these two constructs are then the same.

The recent report explains that when defining and assessing one’s readiness to enter the workforce, there are skill sets that one acquires, from broad abilities that would apply to numerous jobs to specific skills that are job-specific. Accordingly, there are three levels of workplace readiness that follow this general to specific structure: work readiness, career readiness, and job readiness.

Work readiness is the most general form of academic readiness for the workplace. These would be the skills that would prepare any high school graduate for postsecondary workforce training regardless of the intended career or occupation. Career readiness, more directed than work readiness, would be the workplace readiness that would be required for a specific group of careers. For example, whereas all graduates would need foundational work readiness skills such as reading and math proficiency, the fields of health care and construction would generally require different types of skills (for example, the importance of knowing statistics or creating financial statements may be ranked differently by construction and health care professions) regardless of what specific profession is chosen. The last, and most specific, form of workplace readiness is job readiness. This would relate to the skill sets and competencies required or expected for a specific job or occupation.

Similar to our Defining a 21st Century Education report, the ACT report also includes a discussion as to whether including more than just academic skills is appropriate in assessing college and career readiness. In addition to core academic skills (such math, science, and English/language arts), three other skill domains are elaborated. These include: cross-cutting capabilities include those higher-level thinking and social skills (e.g., critical thinking, problem-solving, cooperation), behavioral skills, such as one’s ability to work well in a team setting and managing stress, and navigation skills, such as goal orientation and self-knowledge of abilities. ACT posits that without the consideration of these non-academic components in assessment, the value placed on such skills and abilities will be ignored despite their recognized importance by the education, business, and industry communities. Certainly, an environment fostering these skills would benefit students by way supporting a more comprehensive education. In the very least, it would be difficult to argue against wanting students to have such competencies. ACT concludes that they are currently underway researching how they can aid in examining this more “holistic approach” to career readiness. –David Ferrier






March 17, 2015

Math skills needed to climb the economic ladder

economic ladder

With all the headlines about students opting-out of testing it appears there is an assumption that test scores have no connection to a student’s future success. There is certainly room to debate how much testing students should be taking and what role test results should play in student, teacher, and school accountability but it can’t be ignored that the test scores do in fact matter. No, test results are not a perfect measure of a student’s actual knowledge and skills but perfect shouldn’t be the enemy of the good. That is, test scores are a good measure of a student’s knowledge and skills and the new Common Core tests appear to be an even more accurate measure than previous state assessments that at best were good measures of basic skills.

But does it really matter how students perform on a test? Yes, especially for students from the most economically disadvantaged families. If they want to climb up the economic ladder they better perform well on their math tests. When I examined the impact of the math scores of 2004 seniors who took part in the Educational Longitudinal Study (ELS) I found that those students who came from families at the bottom quartile of socioeconomic status (SES) were more likely to move up the economic ladder, the better they performed on the ELS math assessment. For example, just 5 percent of low-SES students who scored within the lowest quartile on the math assessment moved up to the highest quartile in SES by 2012. On the other hand, 36 percent of low-SES students who had scored within the top quartile on the math assessment climbed to the top of the SES ladder by 2012. Moreover, nearly half of low-SES students remained in the lowest SES quartile in 2012 if they also scored among the lowest quartile on the math assessment. Yet, only 11 percent of low-SES students who scored among the top quartile on the math assessment remained low-SES in 2012.

Taken together this provides strong evidence that economically disadvantaged students can improve their chances of moving up the economic ladder by performing well on math tests. On the other hand, low-performance on math tests will likely lead to continued economic challenges in their adult lives.

Of course, it is not simply improving test scores that enable economically disadvantaged students to move up the economic ladder, it is the skills the higher test scores represent. As CPE’s reports on getting into and succeeding in college showed, obtaining higher math skills leads to greater success in college. Furthermore, an upcoming CPE report will also show that higher math skills also increases the chances non-college enrollees will get a good job and contribute to society as well. So there is strong evidence that increasing a student’s math knowledge, as measured by standardized tests, gives economically disadvantaged students the tools they need to climb up the economic ladder. –Jim Hull

Filed under: Assessments,Testing — Tags: , — Jim Hull @ 11:32 am





November 20, 2014

Growing concerns on testing

A recent opinion piece in the Denver Post challenged the commonly claimed notion that American public students are being tested too much. Recently, high school seniors in Colorado refused to take state assessments in science and social studies, arguing these assessments do not reflect what they have been taught.

But Alicia Caldwell, an editorial writer at the Post, writes that students from third to 12th grade are only tested 1.4% of the time in school, citing data from the state of Colorado’s Department of Education. Caldwell also points out that there was local input on these testing decisions, as eight educators from these school districts were placed on the committee that enacted the social studies standards in 2009.

These standards were put into place because Colorado students were required to take way too many remedial classes in college, which they received no credit but have to pay for. In essence, the Colorado students had to pay for classes that they should have already passed in high school. Finally, the author highlights the role of local districts, as “local districts are layering their own assessments on top of those required for the state, adding to total test time.” This reminds us that the amount of testing is the result of federal, state, and local policies. If parents or students, such as those in Colorado, are complaining about too much testing, then it is the school board and local government’s responsibility to make their testing information transparent.

Colorado is not the only state where communities have voiced their concern on testing. Maryland has also engaged in the debate over the right amount of testing. Eighth-graders in Baltimore schools, for instance, spend 14 to 46 hours a year on standardized assessments. A school year amounts to approximately 1000 instruction hours, so this would mean students are spending 1.4 to 4.6% on testing. When expressed as a percentage, this level of testing does not seem as significant as some of testing critics claim it to be. In Anne Arundel County, students are tested 46 hours per year and 33 of these tests are locally mandated tests. This again demonstrates the role of local government and school board decisions in testing.

An upcoming brief from the Center for Public Education will examine these and other concerns on testing and explain what studies have found on the subject. Stay tuned!






October 7, 2014

More Students Taking Advanced Placement But College Readiness Remains Flat

In a departure from past releases, this year’s SAT results included results from the College Board’s two other testing programs— the PSAT/NMSQT and their Advanced Placement (AP) exams— providing a more complete picture of student progress towards college readiness throughout high school.

This year’s picture provides evidence that more students, especially poor and minority students, are taking more rigorous courses such as Advanced Placement (AP), yet such improvements have not led to an increase in college-readiness rates. Unfortunately, it is not clear why this is the case especially since the AP test-taking rates for the nation’s largest growing population, Hispanics, make up a large portion of the increase in AP test-taking.

Although Hispanic students made tremendous strides on the AP, as a group, they were less likely to reach the college readiness benchmark on the SAT. While nearly 43 percent of the Class of 2014 who took the SAT reached the college readiness benchmark score of 1550, just under a quarter of Hispanic test-takers did so. Moreover, black students who took the SAT were even less likely to be considered ‘college ready,’ as just under 16 percent met or exceeded the college readiness threshold.

 

The Findings

 

College Readiness

  • Nearly half (43 percent) of the test-takers met the SAT College-Ready Benchmark in 2014, which is unchanged from the year prior and slightly lower than in 2009 (44 percent).
    • The SAT College-Ready Benchmarks represent a student who scores a combined 1550 or higher. Students hitting this benchmark have a 65 percent chance of earning a B-minus grade point average in their freshman year courses.
  • Minority students are less likely to be college-ready.
    • Just 15.8 percent of black students and 23.4 percent of Hispanic students were college-ready, according to the SAT’s Benchmark.

Core Course Rigor

  • Three-quarters of SAT test-takers completed the recommended “core” college-preparatory curriculum, which is an increase from 70 percent in 2001.

Test Takers

  • Just over 1.67 million students from the Class of 2014 took the SAT sometime during their high school which was a 4 percent increase from 2013.
  • More minority students are taking the SAT.
    • Nearly half (48 percent) of test takers were minorities in 2014 compared to 46 percent just a year earlier.

 

Advanced Placement (AP)

  • In 2014, 22 percent of the nation’s 11th– and 12th-graders took at least one AP exam which is nearly double the number of students from just a decade ago, when 12 percent took an AP exam.
  • Even though more students took an AP exam, passing ratings improved as well. In 2004, just 8 percent of 11th– and 12th-graders passed an AP exam; that rate increased to 13 percent in 2014.
  • Hispanic students (19 percent) are taking AP courses at nearly the same rate as the overall national average (22 percent), yet black (13 percent) and Native American (12 percent) students are still less likely to take AP.
  • According to the College Board’s PSAT/NMSQT results, nearly 40 percent of PSAT/NMSQT had the potential to succeed in an AP course but never took an exam. However, such students may have taken other college-level courses such as International Baccalaureate or Honors programs.





August 20, 2014

ACT scores improved while college readiness flattened

According to ACT’s The Condition of College & Career Readiness 2014 report released today, after several years of overall ACT scores remaining flat, scores dipped by two-tenths the between 2012 and 2013. This was likely due, at least partially, to the fact that ACT included students who required accommodations to take the test, such as extra time. Such students–on-average– typically perform lower, so their inclusion may have negatively impacted last year’s results. However, the Class of 2014 took back some of these losses by posting a gain of one-tenth of a point while still including all test takers.

Unlike overall scores that improved in 2014, the percent of students meeting ACT’s college readiness benchmarks remained flat after posting gains over the past several years. However, there were some differences by subject areas. In fact, more 2014 graduates met the college readiness benchmark in science than in 2013. On the other hand, fewer 2014 graduates met the college readiness benchmark in math than in 2013.

More positive results were found at the state level where all eight states that have administered the ACT to all students for multiple years as part of their statewide assessment systems (Colorado, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan, North Carolina, North Dakota, Tennessee, and Wyoming) scored higher in 2014 than in 2013. In fact, a handful of these states make fairly dramatic gains in just the past year.

On the surface, the results don’t show much change in how prepared our graduates are for life after high school. Overall scores increased while there was no change in how many graduates were deemed college-ready. Keep in mind that ACT scores change very little from year to year so it will take several years to determine if these results are the start of a trend or not.

What is clear is that overall scores and college readiness results have not suffered, even as we’ve seen a record number of students graduate from high school on time, and seen a dramatic increase in the number of students taking the ACT test and advancing to college. Of course, there is room for improvement but these results show that our nation’s high schools are indeed preparing more students for college than ever before.— Jim Hull

 

Key findings below

State Scores

  • Of the 33 states where at least 40 percent of graduates took the ACT:
    • Minnesota once again achieved the highest composite score with 22.9.
      • However, just 76 percent of Minnesota 2014 graduates took the ACT
    • Graduates from Hawaii posted the lowest scores among states with a score of 18.2.
  • Of the 12 states where 100 percent of graduates took the ACT:
    • Utah had the highest score at 20.8, followed by Illinois (20.7) and Colorado (20.6).
    • North Carolina (18.9), Mississippi (19.0), and Louisiana (19.2) had the lowest scores out of this group.
    • Three states (Wyoming, Tennessee, and Kentucky) improved their scores by three-tenths of a point over the past year while Colorado, Michigan, and North Carolina improved their scores by two-tenths of a point.
      • Louisiana saw their scores drop by three-tenths of a point over the past year.

National Scores

  • The nation’s graduating Class of 2014 had an average composite score of 21.0, which was one-tenth of a point increase from 2013.  Scores had decreased by two-tenths of a point between 2012 and 2013 likely due to fact ACT included scores from students who received special accommodations such as extra time for the first time in 2013. Such students are typically lower performing students than those who do not receive accommodations.
    • At this score, an average high school graduate has about a 75 percent chance of getting admitted into a good college.*
  • Scores increased by two-tenths of a point in reading (21.3) and increased by one-tenth of point in English (20.3) and science (20.8) between 2013 and 2014, while scores on the math test remained at 20.9.
  • Scores for black and white students improved.
    • White graduates increased their scores by one-tenth of a point between 2013 and 2014 (22.2 to 22.3), although it was still a tenth of a point below their 2012 score.
    • The average black graduate score improved from 16.9 to 17.0 over the past year as well.
    • As for Hispanic graduates, their scores remained at 18.8 just as in 2013.

College Readiness

  • Twenty-six percent of 2014 high school graduates were college-ready in all four ACT subject tests (English, reading, math, and science), which is the same as in 2013 but a three percentage point increase since 2009.
    • Graduates who achieve these benchmarks are ready to succeed in first-year, credit-bearing college courses in the specific subjects ACT tests, according to ACT research. “Success” is defined as a 75% likelihood of earning a ‘C’ or better in the relevant course.
  • Little change in college readiness by subject.
    • The number of graduates reaching ACT’s college-ready benchmark in science increased by one percent from 2013 to 2014.
    • In math, the number of graduates deemed college-ready decreased by one percent.
    • In English and reading there was no change in the number of graduates being college-ready in those subject areas.

Core Course Rigor

  • Graduates who completed ACT’s recommended core curriculum were much more likely to be college-ready.
    • Two-thirds (67 percent) of graduates who completed at least four years of English courses were college-ready in English compared to 36 percent of those who did not. In reading, 46 percent of graduates who completed at least four years of English courses met ACT’s college-ready benchmarks for reading compared to 32 percent who did not.
    • There was a much greater disparity when it came to math and science.
      • For those graduates that completed three or more years worth of math nearly half (46 percent) were college-ready in math compared to just eight percent who did not.
      • For those graduates that completed three or more years worth of science nearly 41 percent were college-ready in science compared to just eight percent who did not.

Test Takers

  • About 57 percent of all 2014 high graduates took the ACT, compared to 54 percent in 2013 and 45 percent in 2009.
  • More minority graduates are taking the ACT.
    • In 2014, nearly 28 percent of ACT test-takers were Hispanic or black, compared to 24 percent in 2010.
    • Furthermore, the percentage of test-takers who were white decreased between 2010 and 2014, from 62 percent to 56 percent.

For more information on how to use college entrance exam scores to evaluate your school, check out the Center’s Data First Web site.

* Data based on calculations from the Center for Public Education’s Chasing the College Acceptance Letter: Is it harder to get into college





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