Over the last few decades, the education community in the United States has placed a great deal of emphasis on career and college readiness. In fact, the standard of being career and college ready is a major tenet of the Common Core curriculum that has been instituted in public school systems across the country. However, as a recent Raising Smart Girls article highlighted, less than half of seniors who took the ACT in 2018 met benchmarks for college readiness in Math.
While this is certainly cause for concern, it should come as no surprise. This decline in college readiness — or the likelihood that a student will be able to pass college level courses with a C or higher — has been consistent over the last five years. In 2014, 43% of students who took the ACT met college readiness benchmarks; in 2018, only 40% met these benchmarks.
As disconcerting as this trend is, it is by no means beyond our control. As the old saying goes, knowledge is power; and the 2018 ACT profile report gives us the opportunity to increase our power to better prepare our students for college and career success. What follows is four key ideas to help us better understand the factors influencing student success, as well as what steps we can take to improve or students’ mastery of college and career skills.
1. Performance Differs Across Race and Gender
What is perhaps even more worrying than the general downturn in Math performance is the fact that when the number of students who met college readiness benchmarks in Math is broken down by demographic, there is a significant disparity between male and female students. In the most recent ACT national profile report (2018), 43% of male test-takers met college readiness benchmarks in Math, while only 37% of female test-takers met these benchmarks.
There is an even more noticeable distinction between the number of college ready white students and college ready African-American, American-Indian, Hispanic, and Pacific Islander students. In the same 2018 ACT national profile report, 49% of white test-takers met college-readiness benchmarks in Math. Disturbingly, the same benchmarks are met by only 13% of African-American test-takers and 15% of American Indian test-takers. Among Pacific Islander test-takers, this rises slightly to 24% and among Hispanic test-takers to 26%.
2. Family Support Matters
It is important to note that this report does not take into account the socioeconomic levels of the students taking the ACT. However, socioeconomic status is becoming more widely recognized as an influential factor in students’ academic performance and college readiness.There is evidence suggesting that socioeconomic status is closely tied to race and ethnicity, which may help to explain the disparity between white ACT test-takers and African-American, Hispanic, American Indian, and Pacific Islander ACT test-takers. This is not to say that students from low-income families cannot achieve the same level of college readiness as students from higher-income families. What this does indicate, though, is that parents’ level of education and (even more important) students’ exposure to educational resources has a significant impact on college readiness. As a result, the gap between students who meet college readiness benchmarks and those who do not is one established, more often than not, in the early years of students’ education.
3. Teach Them the Value of Their Education
Although many school systems implement intervention programs to help students who are falling behind in reading and/or math, the role of parents in preparing students for college is irreplicable. Perhaps the most important way in which parents can help their student achieve college readiness is to help them understand how their education is relevant to them. Strategies for helping them make these connections can be as simple as asking them to calculate the tax for a specific grocery item in the store or how many miles per gallon your family car gets.
As your student gets closer to applying for colleges, though, it is important to help them think through the steps they will need to take to achieve their goals. If your student wants to go into the medical field, help them look into what types of courses they will be required to take in college. If they are more interested in starting their own business, help them research the steps they will need to take, as well as the practical skills they’ll need to master, such as determining the cost of materials. The more students understand how what they learn in school applies to their daily life and their personal goals, the more invested they will be in their own education and the more they will be equipped to achieve.
4. Reach Out for Support
If your student needs additional practice or instruction in a particular skill, there are many resources available online. (If you are unsure what skills your student might need additional help in, contact their teachers; they should be able to help you determine which academic skill your student needs the most help in, or if they struggle with organization or other study skills.) An excellent resource for increasing your student’s college readiness is the ACT Recommends. This site allows you to input your student’s grade level, a specific subject area, and the level of guidance your student needs to excel. If you are especially concerned with your student’s college readiness in Math, free sites such as Prodigy and Khan Academy are available to help your student grow, whether they are ready to graduate or just entering elementary school. Additionally, if you are concerned about your students’ access to tests such as the ACT due to financial concerns, you should be aware that the ACT may provide a fee waiver if your student meets their eligibility criteria.
It is well within our power to reverse the current decline in students who meet college readiness benchmarks and decrease the disparity in student achievement across gender, race, and ethnicity. It can seem like an overwhelming task, but we have the tools. Student achievement must be supported in all aspects of their life, from the classroom to the home. Educators and students alike need parents who will help bridge the gap between curriculum and daily life to show that being career and college ready is ultimately being success ready.