Broader ACT participation shows readiness gap more clearly
As more and more students take the ACT, we can see more clearly the gap between rising high school graduation rates and lagging college readiness.
States know that more students need to go on and get some education beyond high school to have a shot at better-paying jobs in the future. And as more states seek to gauge how many highs school students are ready to succeed in college, the list of states that require all of their high school students take the ACT continues to grow. This means that students from a broader range of academic aspirations and preparation are taking the ACT.
From 2015 to 2016, ACT participation across the nation climbed 5 percentage points to 64 percent of students. Nine SREB states saw an increase in ACT participation. Seven SREB states now require the ACT for their high school students. So 100 percent of students in the class of 2016 took the test in Alabama, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee. (Oklahoma will join these states next year.)
This means a more realistic picture of how many students are ready – or not – when we look at how many meet ACT college-readiness benchmarks. These benchmark score levels are set to predict whether students will succeed in their college freshman courses.
In the 12 SREB states where a majority of students took the test, only 21 percent of students met all four ACT college-readiness benchmarks (English, reading, math and science.) This falls short of the nationwide average of 26 percent — and nowhere near the SREB goal of 80 percent. Both the nation and the SREB region saw the percentage of students meeting benchmarks in reading and English drop slightly from 2015 to 2016 as participation rates rose.
The good news in SREB states? Georgia outperformed the nation for the percentage of students meeting all four college-readiness benchmarks and was the only SREB state to top the national average on the science benchmark. Georgia, Oklahoma and West Virginia also outperformed the national average for the percentage of students who met the English and reading benchmarks.
States have made amazing gains over the last decade in high school graduation rates. Now we need to focus on a much tougher goal: getting more of those high school graduates college- and career-ready.
ACT College Readiness Benchmarks
Participation rate and percentage of seniors who met college-readiness benchmarks
Public and private high schools, 2016
Note: In Delaware, Maryland, Texas and Virginia, less than 50 percent of students took the ACT.