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The need for strong quantitative, science reasoning and reading skills for high school graduates is greater today than ever before. Students who graduated in 2017 will have access to multiple forms of consumer credit, more options for healthcare, and a limitless quantity of information coming from multiple media platforms. Compared to when their parents entered college and the workforce, today’s graduates will need to understand increasingly complex financial instruments including retirement plans, insurance, and even credit cards. Improved medical technology comes with greater decision making for patients. With so much information and so many options available, the ability to carefully read and critically evaluate information is more important than ever before for making decisions for our families and communities.
Basic competency in math, reading, English, and science is not required only for high school graduates who intend to pursue a four-year college degree. Students entering vocational and skilled trades need a strong math and communication skills. All citizens, in order to be informed consumers, voters, and taxpayers, need to have competency in these skills.
Given this need, it is somewhat alarming to look at the recent results of ACT scores for 2017 high school graduates in Nebraska. It is a misconception to believe that the ACT is only valuable for students pursuing a four-year college degree. The modern ACT is far more than a memorization and recall standardized test. Today’s ACT is a sophisticated evaluation tool that assesses skill and competency in a wide variety of educational areas. Furthermore, the ACT has developed a series of metrics that effectively predict how prepared a student is for successful completion of an introductory college course using their ACT subtest scores.
College is not the best or only path for every high school graduate. However, every high school graduate in Nebraska should be prepared to have the option to pursue a two or four year degree if they so choose. While no single test or number can capture the full potential of a student, it is counterproductive to dismiss significant and well-researched data on student preparation and competency simply because it comes from a standardized test.
Of the 2017 graduating class, 84% of Nebraska students took the ACT. Of that population 99% indicated they would pursue some degree of education beyond high school, with 93% intending to pursue a bachelor’s degree or higher and 6% aspiring to an associate’s degree. Nebraskans should take pride in the high percentage of high school graduates who wish to pursue additional education and training beyond high school.
A challenge for many students in pursuing higher education is cost. Unfortunately, the 2017 Nebraska graduate performance on the ACT reveals that an overwhelming majority of them will be paying college tuition for coursework to gain competency in subjects they should have mastered in high school.
Using comprehensive data, the ACT has established baseline scores in four different areas of the ACT that predict a student will have a 75% chance of scoring a grade of C or better in an introductory college course. According to ACT data, only 28% of Nebraska’s graduates met that competency level in math, reading, science, and English. An almost equal number, 27%, failed to meet any of the readiness Benchmarks. Thus, over 1 in 4 Nebraska ACT test-taking graduates in 2017 are not prepared for college in any of the core areas.
This data is troubling for students and families concerned about the cost and affordability of higher education. Students who are not adequately prepared for their entry-level coursework will require remedial courses, for which they must pay tuition, to gain the necessary level of proficiency to be successful. If they do not catch up, success in further years of their education is less likely. Students who attempt but are not successful in college may incur student loan debt they must repay without the earnings advantage of a college degree.
“No fail” policies and grade inflation may boost high school graduation rates and improve students’ self-esteem, but they do not ensure all students will be adequately prepared to be successful citizens and have the opportunity to pursue the careers they choose. Nebraskans must expect more from their sizeable investment in public education.