For a growing number of our nation’s teens, the question is never, “Am I ready to go to college?” Rather, they ask, “How soon can I get there?!” But the first question deserves further consideration. Since 2003, the twelfth-grade mathematics and reading assessments from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) have been used as an indicator of students’ academic preparedness for college. According to the 2015 data released in The Nation’s Report Card, only 37% of twelfth-graders met the standard for success in mathematics or reading. Even more troubling, the percents of students meeting preparedness standards are down across the board from last year.
College readiness is no joke. Students who arrive at school with deficient math, reading, and writing skills face a higher likelihood of struggle and failure. Even the ones who don’t drop out are forced to take remedial no-credit classes, which extends the already pricey proposition of a college degree. Every year, we acknowledge that many of our teens are not ready for college. But what are we going to do about it?
The first step on the road to readiness requires acceptance of a simple yet disturbing fact: a high school diploma does not guarantee preparedness for college. Indeed, the situation in many districts may be worsening; NAEP data indicates a widening difference in reading scores, meaning that scores for students at the lower percentiles have decreased, while scores for students at the highest percentile has increased.
Fortunately, simple standards for academic readiness already exist independent of high school exams. The SAT and ACT both serve as more than just admissions tests. In many ways, they can be considered assessments of core college readiness. SAT College and Career Readiness Benchmarks and ACT College Readiness Benchmarks quantify the likelihood of reasonable academic success and timely completion of four-year degrees. Generally, a score between 50th and 60th percentile on a relevant test section signifies readiness. So a student scoring 530 or higher in SAT Math has, at least in the College Board’s expert eyes, a 75% chance of earning at least a C in first-semester, credit-bearing, college-level courses in algebra, statistics, precalculus, or calculus.
What this means is that, in many ways, preparation for the SAT or ACT is preparation for college. Obviously, test prep doesn’t impart the maturity or responsibility required to thrive in an independent academic environment. But a quality test prep program imparts real math, reading, and writing instruction, filling in the blanks that could be trouble down the road. Not only do we review the lost rules of grammar and math with our students, but we routinely teach them how to really read and understand what they read. When newly mastered skills and knowledge lead to higher test scores, who can dispute that these students are better prepared for the academic rigors of college?
The best tests provide actionable information along with benchmarks for desired outcomes. Despite reports to the contrary, most colleges value the data delivered by the SAT and ACT. Take advantage of these exquisitely tuned college admissions tests by using them not only to gain entry to the school of your choices, but also to assess whether you’re really ready to succeed there. Most students apparently are not!