ACT: College hopes rise, scores fall

Most students aren’t ready for college, according to the latest ACT college readiness report. The composite score dropped to 20.9 in 2013, the lowest in eight years. That’s probably because more students — including less-capable students — are taking the exam.

Only 26 percent of test-takers in the class of 13 met all four readiness benchmarks in English (grammar, sentence structure, organization, rhetorical skills), reading, science and math; 39 percent met three of the four and nearly one-third did not meet any.

Twelve states are testing more than 90 percent of seniors, including students who don’t plan to go to college. Also, for the first time, disabled students with testing accommodations, such as extended time, were included in the overall reporting numbers.

College-readiness benchmarks were developed by ACT to predict whether a student has a 75 percent chance of earning a C or higher or a 50 percent chance of earning a B or higher in a typical first-year college course. Students this year did best in English, with 64 percent achieving the standard. Forty-four percent met it in both reading and math, and 36 percent hit the benchmark in science.

This year, ACT moved the reading benchmark up 1 point to 22 and science down 1 point to 23 to match expectations for performance at a national sample of colleges.

‘Common Core’ test market gets crowded

The Common Core testing market is getting crowded, reports Education Week.  College Board is aligning four testing programs to the new standards, adding “yet another player to the list of companies seeking to take on new roles in a shifting nationwide assessment landscape.”

In addition to the SAT, College Board will redesign ReadiStep, aimed at 8th and 9th graders, the PSAT, typically taken by 10th and 11th graders, and Accuplacer, used to determine whether incoming college students take remedial or college-level courses.

David Coleman, who took over as the College Board’s president last October , was a chief writer of the common standards in English/language arts.

States could use College Board’s tests to track students’ progress toward college readiness by 2014-15,  Coleman said.

He wants the tests to play other roles, too: as an early-warning system, facilitating interventions for students who are behind; and as door-openers, identifying promising but under-recognized students and connecting them with more-challenging coursework and with supports that will aid them in applying for college.

College Board will be competing with the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers or the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, which are using federal funds to design standards-aligned tests.

ACT also is developing ”common-core tests that will span elementary through high school, include not only math and literacy but science, and be ready to use a year earlier than the consortium tests, which are slated for debut in 2015,” notes Ed Week.

Common standards were supposed to allow states to see how their students were doing compared to other states, but if core adopters are split between PARCC, SBAC, ACT, College Board and state exams, comparability will remain elusive.

New SAT aims to help low-income students

By focusing on what’s taught in school, the new SAT will help students who can’t afford test prep, writes Ilana Garon, a Bronx high school teacher.

The ACT has passed the SAT in popularity, notes Garon.

While both the current SAT and the ACT have Reading and Writing sections, the SAT currently focuses on vocabulary and more verbally complex reading passages, while the ACT does away with vocabulary definition questions in favor of questions about punctuation and a longer, more involved focus on writing mechanics. In the Reading section, the ACT features articles in four known categories (as opposed to the random selection offered on the SAT), as well as a Science section, which makes students analyze graphs. The Math section of the ACT more closely aligns with a high school math curriculum, while the SAT features some logic games, which are more similar to LSAT questions, and does not include trigonometry.

Students who are strong in math or visually oriented will do better on the ACT, while “verbal” students “may find the SAT plays to their strengths,” writes Garon.

One of the on-going problems with the current SAT is not that it is “harder” than the ACT (as some would argue) but the fact that, more than its rival, it focuses on material outside of the scope of a high school curriculum. For wealthier students, an SAT tutor becomes a mandatory accessory; for many poor students, this type of service is out of reach, leaving them to take a test that is disconnected from what they’re learning in their regular classes with only sparse opportunities for preparation

College Board plans to inform low-income achievers about scholarships and aid to pay their way to selective colleges. But raising college awareness may be less important than redesigning the test, concludes Garon.

I’m not optimistic that the new SAT will be an equalizer:  Students who go to academically strong schools will have a huge advantage.

Prepare for new SAT, digital ACT

College admissions tests are changing, reports the New York Times.

Say farewell to vocabulary flashcards with arcane words like “compendious,” “membranous,” “mendacious,” “pugnacious,” “depreciatory,” “redolent,” “treacly” and “jettison.” In the new SAT, to be unveiled in 2015, David Coleman, president of the College Board, wants to get rid of obscure words that are . . . just SAT words, and replace them with more common words like “synthesis,” “distill” and “transform,” used in context as they will be in college and in life.

And the math? “There are a few things that matter disproportionately, like proportional reasoning, linear equations and linear functions,” Mr. Coleman said. “Those are the kinds of things we’re going to concentrate on.”

“And it shouldn’t just be about picking the right answer,” he said. “It should be about being able to explain, and see, the applications of this math.”

Coleman, a principal architect of Common Core standards, wants the SAT to align with what students learn in high school instead of trying to measure “aptitude.”

The ACT, which already is more curriculum-based, will be given on computers and will include “more creative, hands-on questions,” the Times reports. In addition, ACT will offer yearly testing as early as third grade to “help guide students to college readiness.”

Coleman plans to change grading for the SAT essay, which lets students “get top marks for declaring that the Declaration of Independence was written by Justin Bieber and sparked the French Revolution, as long as the essay is well organized and develops a point of view.”

 “We should not be encouraging students to make up the facts,” Mr. Coleman said. “We should be asking them to construct an argument supported by their best evidence.”

Over and over, Mr. Coleman returns to the need to prod students into marshaling their evidence. “The heart of the revised SAT will be analyzing evidence,” he said. “The College Board is reaching out to teachers and college faculty to help us design questions that, for example, could ask students to use math to analyze the data in an economics study or the results of a scientific experiment, or analyze the evidence provided within texts in literature, history, geography or natural science.”

In 2005, the SAT dropped analogies and added more advanced math. However, the test is losing market share to the ACT, which last year was taken by more students.

Collegebound can’t opt out of Common Core

Common Core Standards will affect homeschoolers when their children apply to college, writes Paula Bolyard in PJ Lifestyle. Without traditional academic credentials, homeschooled students need strong SAT or ACT scores.

David Coleman, a “lead architect” of the Common Core, is now president of the College Board, which designs and administers the SAT and AP (Advanced Placement) tests. He plans to “redesign the SAT, transforming it from an aptitude test intended to control for varying levels of school quality, to a knowledge test aligned with the Common Core,” reports The Atlantic.

The ACT, which describes itself as “an active partner with the Common Core State Standards Initiative,” also plans to revamp their tests, notes Bolyard.

If your homeschooled children plan to go to attend college some day, the way things currently stand, they will be tested on Common Core “achievements and behavior.” That means you may need to consider altering your curriculum to align with the standards.

Alignment of the SAT, ACT and GED exams to Common Core “poses new questions about the extent to which states, private schools, and homeschooled students will be compelled to accept national standards and tests,” writes Brittany Corona on Heritage Foundation’s The Foundry

Even in states that do not sign on to Common Core, schools could find themselves having to align content with Common Core material in order to ensure student success on the SAT or ACT—something that could affect private schools.

The GED is “sometimes used by homeschoolers to demonstrate content mastery,” Corona writes. The new version of the test “could pull homeschoolers into the Common Core web.”

Michael Farris, co-founder of Home School Legal Defense Association, told Coleman (in a polite conversation): “Just because you have a good idea (homeschooling in my case, Common Core in his case), it doesn’t mean that it is appropriate to force everyone in the country to follow your idea. And that is my central problem with the Common Core and all forms of centralized educational planning.”

Few STEM-capable students want to teach

Very few young people with strong math and science skills want to be teachers, according to ACT’s STEM Educator Pipeline report.

The proposed federal STEM Teacher Pathway program seeks to produce 100,000 new, high-quality math and science teachers in the next decade, notes ACT. But, of 1.3 million ACT test takers in 2012, only 0.25 percent who’ve picked a future occupation want to be math teachers; 0.06 percent want to be science teachers.

Of the 3,877 who wanted to be math or science teachers, only 2,502 met ACT’s College Readiness Benchmarks in math or science.

Some college students interested in teaching might be persuaded to specialize in math or science, ACT predicts. But it will be harder to persuade math- and science-proficient students who aren’t considering teaching to change their career goals.

I’ve met Silicon Valley engineers who dream of becoming math teachers when they retire.  But it’s not easy to make that transition.

Even the college ready don’t always succeed

Ten percent of college-ready high school graduates don’t enroll in college and another 9 percent don’t make it to the second year, according to ACT’s 2013 Reality of College Readiness Report. As many as 43 percent of all ACT test takers in the class of 2011 were not enrolled in college in fall 2012.

ACT: 25% are ready for college

Twenty-five percent of ACT test takers in 2012 were prepared for college, according to ACT’s 2012 Condition of College and Career Readiness report. Sixty-seven percent were ready to pass a college writing course, 52 percent were prepared to read a social science textbook, 46 percent were ready for college algebra and 31 were likely to pass biology.

Forty percent of ACT test takers reached the readiness benchmark in three areas. Twenty-eight percent didn’t qualify in any subject.

Passing an ACT benchmark means a student has a 50 percent chance of earning a B or better and a 75 percent chance of earning at least a C.

Thirty-seven percent of test takers want to earn a professional or graduate degree, 45 percent will settle or a bachelor’s and 5 percent are aiming at an associate degree.

ACT: Once ‘far off track,’ few catch up

Fourth and eighth graders who are “far off track” academically — more than a standard deviation behind — rarely catch up over four year, reports ACT.

Start early to close gaps in academic preparation, the report recommends. Some approaches, such as providing a “content-and vocabulary-rich curriculum,” will benefit all students in the early years. In middle and high school, however, educators should acknowledge that programs that work for on-track students may not work for those who are off track and vice versa.

Ohio: Exit exam will test college readiness

Ohio will replace its high-school graduation test with a tougher college-readiness exam and end-of-course tests, reports the Columbus Dispatch.

The current graduation test asks for 10th-grade skills. Forty-two percent of first-year college students in the state require remedial coursework.

The new college- and career-readiness test has not been developed. There’s “talk of using the ACT,” which would be provided free of charge, reports the Dispatch. End-of-course exams will be required in English I, II and III, algebra I, geometry, algebra II, biology, physical science, American history and American government. Test grades will count as a portion of the grade for the course.

So what happens when the failure rate soars? And what about Ohio students who aren’t prepping for college but want a high school diploma to qualify for an apprenticeship or the military?