High School Standardized Test Scores Don’t Necessarily Predict College Readiness or Success

Every year, the ACT, a national exam that plays a significant role in determining college acceptance for graduating high school seniors, releases “The Condition of Career and College Readiness.” This report forecasts academic college-readiness for students heading to universities by setting four national benchmarks in the subjects of English, reading, math, and science. If students meet or surpass these benchmarks, the ACT forecasts academic success based on college-readiness for students. On the other hand, if students do not meet these benchmarks, the ACT forecasts that students will not experience success, as they are unable to meet subject-matter national benchmarks.

The ACT gives students a composite (average) numerical score from 0-36, but the individual ACT subject-matter benchmarks that determine college readiness are much lower than 36. The ACT college-readiness benchmark for English is an 18, for reading it is a 22, for math it is a 22, and for science it is a 23. According to the ACT report, “The ACT College Readiness Benchmarks are scores on the ACT subject area tests that represent the level of achievement required for students to have a 50% chance of obtaining a B or higher or about a 75% chance of obtaining a C or higher in corresponding credit-bearing first-year college courses.” If a high school senior receives the aforementioned benchmark scores in the appropriate subject areas, the ACT predicts that she or he is college-ready. If the students receive scores that are below the subject-matter benchmarks, the ACT predicts that said student is not college-ready.

In California, only 31% of graduating seniors took the ACT in 2017, and the average composite ACT score for the state was 22.8 out of 36. This does not mean that only 31% of graduating seniors intend to receive post-secondary education; it just means that 31% of graduating seniors in California chose to take the ACT in 2017. The average scores graduating seniors received in specific, subject-matter tests far surpassed the ACT benchmarks. The average score that graduating seniors from California received in English was a 73 (more than four-times higher than the national benchmark of 18), in reading a 57 (more than double the national benchmark of 22), in math a 55 (more than double the national benchmark of 22), and in science a 46 (more than double the national benchmark of 23).

Basing our criteria for college-readiness on the ACT report, the 31% of graduating seniors in California who took the ACT are indeed college-ready in terms of content knowledge. This is great news, however, there is a caveat in this report, and the ACT is transparent about the fact that measuring college-readiness based solely on students’ content knowledge does not guarantee student success.

The ACT report states, “Assessment models should take into account core academic skills, behavioral skills, cross-cutting capabilities, and education and career navigation skills to provide an integrated picture of college and work readiness.”

In other words, we cannot be completely positive about our graduating seniors’ college-readiness based solely on test scores. We need to consider other aspects of our students’ abilities in order to be truly assure that they are college-ready. Test scores are, at best, a glimpse into academic and subject-matter knowledge. However, in terms of overall college-readiness, even the ACT cannot admit to be a faithful predictor of college-readiness.   

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Robel Espino

Robel Espino

Robel Espino is an education specialist assistant, worked as an after school instructor, and serves as a youth leader in his local church. A first-generation college graduate, Robel attended California State University, East Bay in Hayward, CA, and received a degree in English Literature. Robel is an Oakland native who received k-12 education in the cities of Oakland, San Pablo, and Richmond, CA. He is a husband, and a father of a four-year old.

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