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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






January 22, 2015

Shhh!! Don’t say anything but more students are graduating now than ever before

One of the great secrets in education is the fact that our nation’s high schools are graduating more students on-time than ever before. Even after it was first reported last year that the national high school on-time graduation rate reached 80 percent it still seemed like this news was all too-often overlooked by critics and proponents of public education alike. Maybe this will change with President Obama highlighting this fact in his State of the Union speech last night. But the fact that the latest graduation rates were released last week by the National Center on Education Statistics (NCES) without many noticing doesn’t give me much hope.

So, in case you hadn’t heard already here are the facts. Our national on-time high school graduate rate reached another all-time high of 81 percent for the Class of 2013—the most recent year graduation rate data is available. This represents an increase from 79 percent for the Class of 2011. Keep in mind as well, this is an actual graduation rate not an estimate that NCES and most states had used for years. Since states have developed data systems in recent years that can determine which individual students entered ninth-grade and graduated four years later with at least a standard high school diploma it is now possible to calculate an actual on-time graduation rate.

Yet, this rate doesn’t even include late high school graduates who took more than four years to earn the same diploma. If the number of late graduates remains similar to what I found in my Better Late Than Never report it is likely that including students who take longer than four years to earn a standard high school diploma would increase the national graduation rate above 85 percent. Keep in mind, the national graduation rate hovered around 70 percent between the mid-1970s and early 2000s, making these gains all the more impressive.

Just a decade ago, few thought that reaching the 90 percent mark would even be possible, even if late graduates were included. However, now it appears the 90 percent mark is within reach. In fact, Iowa has already achieved a 90 percent on-time graduation rate according to NCES data. And five other states -Nebraska, New Jersey, North Dakota, Texas, and Wisconsin- are getting close to that marker, boasting 88 percent on-time graduation rates. Again, if late graduates were included it is likely that these states are graduating over 90 percent of their students.

And a number of states not as close to the 90 percent threshold also have reason to be optimistic. Particularly Nevada, Alabama, and New Mexico who have ranked among the bottom of states in terms of graduation rates. From 2011 to 2013, each of them improved their on-time graduation rates by 9, 8, and 7 percentage points, respectively. Such increases represent thousands more students earning the minimal credentials needed to be prepared for life after high school.

Of course, no one should be satisfied until all students leave high school with a high school diploma, even if it is as likely as a baseball player hitting a thousand. Everyone wants all students to be college and career ready and our nation’s high schools have made tremendous strides toward meeting that goal. A high school diploma may not guarantee success after high school but without one the chances are minimal. While there is more work to do, our high schools should be congratulated for this tremendous accomplishment. Fortunately, it looks like they are heading towards another record next year. If given the support they need, there is no reason our nation’s schools can’t obtain and surpass the 90 percent graduation rate. When they do, hopefully it won’t be such a secret. – Jim Hull






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 21, 2013

Good news, bad news from latest ACT results

ACT results for the Class of 2013 were released today and despite the drop in overall scores, more high school graduates are prepared for college. The decline in scores may be due to the fact for the first time ACT is including students who required accommodations, such as more time to take test, in the overall results as well as the fact that there as a dramatic increase in test-takers because both groups likely consist of a number of lower-performing students.

With that in mind, although scores declined it is important to point out that the percent of graduates considered “college ready” in all four subjects increased, and has been increasing for several years even though many more traditionally disadvantaged graduates are now taking the ACT. This shows our high schools are graduating more students ready to succeed in college.

But the results also show that progress has been slow and uneven between subgroups, requiring schools to double and even triple their efforts in making sure all students are adequately prepared for college-level work. To do so, high schools need to ensure that all students are taking the courses they need to succeed in college. Unfortunately, as CPE’s latest report Out of Sync found, most states do not require the courses students need to succeed in college for students to earn a high school diploma. As more graduates plan on enrolling in college, it is more important than ever that a high school diploma represent a student who is ready for higher education, whether it as a two-year or four-year institution. – Jim Hull

Below is summary of the major findings from the 2013 ACT report

National Scores

  • The nation’s graduating Class of 2013 had an average composite score of 20.9, which was a decrease from the 21.1 from both 2012 and 2009.
    • At this score, an average high school graduate has about a 72 percent chance of getting admitted into a good college.*
  • Scores decreased by two-tenths of a point on the reading (21.1), math (20.9) and science (20.7) tests between 2012 and 2013, while scores on the English (20.2) test declined by three-tenths of a point.
  • Scores declined for every ethnic/racial group.
    • White graduates saw a decrease of two-tenths of a point between 2012 and 2013 (22.4 to 22.2).
    • The average black graduate score was 16.9.0 in 2013, which was one-tenth lower than in 2012 but the same as in 2009.
    • The average Hispanic graduate score was 18.8 in 2013, which was a tenth of point lower than in 2012 but a tenth of a point higher than in 2009.

State Scores

  • Of the 31 states where at least 40 percent of graduates took the ACT:
    • Minnesota achieved the highest composite score of 23.0.
      • 74 percent of Minnesota graduates took the ACT
    • Idaho, Iowa, and Wisconsin had the next highest scores of 22.1 apiece.
  • Of the nine states where 100 percent of graduates took the ACT:
    • Utah had the highest score at 20.7, followed by Illinois (20.6) and Colorado (20.4).
    • Tennessee (19.5), Louisiana (19.5), and North Carolina (18.7) had the lowest scores out of this group.

College Readiness

  • Twenty-six percent of 2013 high school graduates were college ready in all four ACT subject tests (English, Reading, Math, and Science), which is one percentage point increase from 2012 and a 3 percentage point increase from 2009.
    • Of the 31 states that had at least 40 percent of their graduates take the ACT, Minnesota and Michigan were the only state where more than 50 percent of their graduates were college ready in at least three of four subjects.
    • Less than 30 percent of graduates in, Kentucky, Louisiana, North Carolina, Mississippi, & Tennessee were college ready in three of four subjects.
    • 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.
  • Black and Hispanic graduates are less likely to be college ready than their white peers.
    • The percent of black graduates meeting all four benchmarks remained at 5 percent between 2012 and 2013 while the percent of Hispanic students increased from 13 to 14 percent.
    • However, these percentages are much lower than the 33 percent of white graduates who met all four benchmarks in 2013 which is up from 32 percent in 2012.
  • Between 2012 and 2013, the percentage of graduates who scored at or above the ACT College Readiness Benchmarks increased from 31 percent to 36 percent in science, but declined in the other three subject areas.
    • Over the same time period there was an eight percentage point drop in the proportion of graduates who were college-ready in reading (52 to 44 percent), a three percentage point drop in English (67 to 64 percent) and a two percentage point drop in math (46 to 44 percent).

Core Course Rigor

  • Seventy-four percent of ACT test-takers completed the recommended “core” college-preparatory curriculum, which is down from 76 percent in 2012 but still significantly higher than the 70 percent in 2009.
  • High school graduates who completed a core curriculum earned composite test scores 2.7 to 3.1 points higher than graduates who did not complete a core curriculum.
    • A three point increase in an ACT score for an average graduate increases his or her chances of getting admitted into a good college from 72 percent to 81 percent.*
  • Black and Hispanic graduates were less likely to have completed a core curriculum than white graduates.
    • While 76 percent of white graduates complete a core curriculum, just 69 percent of black graduates and 72 percent of Hispanic graduates did so.

Test Takers

  • About 54 percent of all 2013 high graduates took the ACT, compared to 52 percent in 2012 and 45 percent in 2009.
  • More minority graduates are taking the ACT.
    • In 2013, nearly 28 percent of ACT test-takers were Hispanic or black, compared to 22 percent in 2009.
    • Furthermore, the percentage of test-takers who were white decreased between 2009 and 2013, from 64 percent to 58 percent.

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

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






May 2, 2013

Improve college attainment rates: Invest in high school guidance counselors

A recent study by Caroline Hoxby and Christopher Avery hasn’t gotten a lot of media attention but is a must read. In fact, I just became aware of the study myself even though it was issued as a working paper by the National Bureau of Economic Research back in December. Policymakers, educators, parents, and the general public should be made aware of this study because it has broad implications for narrowing gaps between low and higher income students.

What did the study find that was so important? It found that low-income high achieving students were less likely to not just attend a selective college but even apply to one as similar achieving higher income students. Instead, low-income high achieving students tend to attend non-selective two- or four-year colleges that have significantly lower instructional resources and graduation rates.

Why is this so important?  Too few low-income students go on to obtain a college degree. If more low-income students applied to more selective colleges that have greater instructional resources and higher graduations rates the college degree attainment gap between low- and high-income students would narrow. In the long-term the U.S. would likely climb up the international college graduation rate rankings as well.

You might be thinking low-income students may not attend more selective colleges because they cost more. This may be true if you compared sticker prices but the study found that if you take into account the difference in financial aid packages, many selective colleges would cost low-income students less than the non-selective colleges they wound up attending.

However, this isn’t likely to be common knowledge for many low –income students as many are the first in their families to attend college. This is why adults in their high schools need to help educate these students and their families about the college going process, particularly for those qualified to attend a selective college. Yet, when the national student to guidance counselor average is 350 to 1—likely much higher in many high poverty urban districts—it is nearly impossible for guidance counselors to find the time to ensure low-income high achieving students apply to selective schools.

This study provides more evidence of the importance of high school guidance counselors. As CPE found in our High School Rigor and Good Advice report last year, those students who meet regularly with counselors about college are more likely to succeed in college. The same report also found that those students who took more rigorous courses in high school were more likely to succeed in college as well. So, guidance counselors not only help low-income high achieving students by educating them about the college going process but by ensuring students take the rigorous courses they need to succeed in college.

Yes, getting more low-income students to complete a rigorous high school curriculum will increase the chances those students will attend and succeed in college. But this study shows that academic preparation can only go so far. If schools invest more in educating low-income students on the college going process by hiring more guidance counselors that will ensure students take rigorous courses and apply to higher quality colleges. Then the U.S. will likely see the college degree gap between low- and high-income students narrow and see the U.S. rise in the international college attainment rankings. – Jim Hull






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