Miércoles 31 de Agosto de 2005, Ip nº 124

Many Going to College Are Not Ready, Report Says
Por TAMAR LEWIN

Only about half of this year's high school graduates have the reading skills they need to succeed in college, and even fewer are prepared for college-level science and math courses, according to a yearly report from ACT, which produces one of the nation's leading college admissions tests.

The report, based on scores of the 2005 high school graduates who took the exam, some 1.2 million students in all, also found that fewer than one in four met the college-readiness benchmarks in all four subjects tested: reading comprehension, English, math and science.

"It is very likely that hundreds of thousands of students will have a disconnect between their plans for college and the cold reality of their readiness for college," Richard L. Ferguson, chief executive of ACT, said in an online news conference yesterday.

ACT sets its college-readiness benchmarks - including the reading comprehension benchmark, which is new this year - by correlating earlier students' ACT scores with grades they actually received as college freshmen. Based on that data, the benchmarks indicate the skill level at which a student has a 70 percent likelihood of earning a C or better, and a 50 percent chance of earning a B or better.

Among those who took the 2005 test, only 51 percent achieved the benchmark in reading, 26 percent in science, and 41 percent in math; the figure for English was 68 percent. Results from the new optional ACT writing test, which was not widely taken this year, were not included in the report.

About 40 percent of the nation's 2005 high school graduates took the ACT, and the average overall score, 20.9 of a possible 36, was unchanged from the year before. But Dr. Ferguson found it heartening that scores were holding even, given that the pool of test takers had become so much larger and more diverse, in part because both Illinois and Colorado now use the ACT to test all students, even those who do not see themselves as college-bound.

Minority students now make up 27 percent of all ACT test takers, up from 24 percent in the class of 2001. The number of Hispanic test takers has grown 40 percent in that period, and the number of African-American test takers 23 percent. Caucasians taking the test have increased by only 2 percent.

"It's wonderful that more and more students who might not have considered college several years ago are now making plans for education beyond high school," Dr. Ferguson said.

But it is a source of concern, he said, that too many students are not taking the kind of rigorous high school courses that will prepare them for college. In fact, only 56 percent of this year's graduates who took the ACT had completed the recommended core curriculum for college-bound students: four years of English and three years each of social studies, science and math at the level of algebra or higher.

Those who do complete the core curriculum are far more likely to meet college readiness standards, Dr. Ferguson said, but the percentage who complete that core has been falling.

"The message doesn't seem to be getting though," he said.

The ACT report highlighted other worrisome trends as well, including a continuing decline in the percentage of students planning to major in engineering, computer science and education.

And at a time when more women than men go to college, Dr. Ferguson said, it is also a matter of concern that 56 percent of this year's graduates who took the ACT were female, and only 44 percent male. As in previous years, men had higher average math and science scores, and women higher averages scores in English and reading.


  17/08/2005. The New York Times.