Wednesday, August 13, 2008

ACT scores and college readiness

The ACT is an examination used in college admissions. It's been around since 1959, and was conceived as an alternative to the SAT. As a professor, I prefer the ACT; because, in my experience, it identifies students who seem to have natural talent for academic work -- and even for what kinds of academic work. The SAT, another college admissions test, seemingly tells me if the student is generally intelligent, but it's much harder for me to translate that into predictive performance in a specific major (such as in Philosophy). Granted, the SAT does have subject tests, but these must be taken in addition to the standard SAT test. Such an addition is inconvenient for those who want curriculum-based testing already in place; and, of course, for the poor student who has to pony up the extra money, study, and brain-labor to trudge through yet another set of admissions tests.

Also, I see a lot of college-age people arrive from home schooling situations, and from low population counties where the public schools are seriously underfunded. Moreover a person in the top 10% of their High School graduating class means one thing in a class of 20, quite a another in a class of 300. The ACT gives gives me a fairly objective assessment of comparison for various students.

The Washington Post reports that the total number of students taking the ACT jumped by 9% last year. The article further notes that 43% of this year's high school graduates took the ACT, and that three in four test-takers will likely need remedial help in at least one subject to succeed in college. As the above chart shows, the average ACT score is just over 21. (The test range runs from a minimum of 1 to a maximum of 36) Surprisingly, only 22 percent met a benchmark score for college readiness in all four subjects (i.e. in English, math, reading and science.) Another finding of interest is that "among 2008 graduates who took the minimum core curriculum in math -- algebra I and II, plus geometry -- just 14 percent met the math benchmark."[1]

Naturally, there is plenty of room for debate about standardized scoring for college admissions. The original idea of entrance exams was to help evaluate a student's potential and to determine if that student was academically ready to attend college. Yet with computerized study guides, the ability to take the test multiple times, and (in 2010) the choice of which among the scores to send where, it looks like the process could be manipulated, especially if the student comes from a well-to-do family that can afford multiple takes and study helps. With all that artificial test-prep, just what is being measured?



[image] Washington Post

[1] Justin Pope "ACT scores down, but more students college-ready" Washington Post Aug. 13, 2008 (Accessed August 13, 2008).

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