Friday, August 20, 2010

College- and Career-Ready Students: More Work to Do

Last week, I highlighted projections for the Class of 2010. This week, I want to do a follow-up concerning the results of the ACT for the Class of 2010.

I know many of you heard reports this week that fewer than one in four high school graduates across the nation met benchmarks for college readiness. Through this blog, I hope to explain what those benchmarks measure.

Kentucky is one of a few states that require all 8th, 10th and 11th graders to take the components of ACT, Inc.’s Educational Planning and Assessment System (EPAS). In 8th grade, students take the EXPLORE assessment ,and then in 10th grade they take the PLAN assessment. At 11th grade, students actually take the ACT. EPAS reports results at each grade level showing whether or not students are scoring at the college-ready level for the specific grade. The reports are based on assessments of English, mathematics, reading and science.

At the 11th grade, the benchmark scores predict that a student has a 75 percent chance of making a C or better in a college entry-level course such as English 101, College Algebra, College Social Science and/or College Biology. Each subject-level component of the ACT has a separate benchmark score. ACT also reports on the percentage of students who score college-ready for all four areas. This is what is often reported in the media. Nationwide, 24 percent of students met benchmarks for all four areas. In Kentucky, 14 percent did.

Readers need to know a couple of things as they interpret the scores. Kentucky’s scores include all public school 11th-grade students. Most states do NOT assess all students, and the percentage assessed can range from 100 percent to less than 4 percent, depending on the state. In 2006, only 24,930 Kentucky 11th graders took the ACT, compared to 41,227 in 2010. So, comparing results from 2006 to 2010 is not appropriate, and comparing Kentucky results to other states who have significantly smaller numbers of students taking the ACT is inappropriate.

However, as Commissioner of Education, I am extremely concerned for our state and our nation. As I reported last week, our state’s and nation’s futures are tied to our level of education due to the increasing demands for higher levels of skills by employers. From 1970, when more than 80 percent of jobs in our state and nation only required a high school degree or less, we are now moving toward an economy that will have 80 percent of jobs that require training beyond high school, and 63 percent of those jobs will require a postsecondary degree. The ACT demonstrates one measure that reveals we have a large gap in our high school graduates’ readiness for college and career.

Another component of the ACT results that is worrisome to me is the HUGE gap between white students and African American students in our public schools.
* In English, 56 percent of white students met the benchmark, and only 30 percent of African American students met the benchmark.
* In math, 27 percent of white students met the benchmark, and only 9 percent of African American students met the benchmark.
* In reading, 41 percent of white students met the benchmark, compared to 18 percent of African American students.
* In science, 21 percent of white students and 6 percent of African American students met the benchmark.
* For all four benchmarks, 15 percent of white students, compared to 4 percent of African American students, met all four benchmarks.

In 2009, the Kentucky General Assembly passed and Governor Steve Beshear signed Senate Bill 1, which focuses the state on improving the college and career readiness of our high school graduates. Governor Beshear has followed up with the Transforming Education in Kentucky (TEK) Task Force, which will recommend specific strategies to improve the outcomes of our public school graduates. The Kentucky Board of Education, Council on Postsecondary Education and the Education Professional Standards Board are all working closely together to improve the student learning outcomes. Many partners in the business community and private foundation community have joined in the call to action.

This week, the TEK Talk community forums held across Kentucky sought the input of citizens for this important work. The eyes of the nation were on Kentucky in 1990, when we were the first state to implement major finance and school reform. The eyes of the nation are once again upon Kentucky as we lead the way in improving the college and career readiness of our public school graduates. No one in the Commonwealth should sit on the sidelines for this major initiative. Thank you in advance for what you will do to support the children and the future of Kentucky.

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