Near Illiteracy of MI's Not College-Bound Ignored in AP Report on ACT Scores
You would think that someone working for the self-described "Essential Global News Network" known as the Associated Press as an Education Writer might go beyond using the Copy and Paste commands in reporting on national college entrance exam test scores.
From all appearances, you would be wrong.
AP Education Writer Justin Pope's report on the 2008 ACT exam results appears to contain nothing that isn't already in ACT, Inc.'s press release. For whatever reason, Pope missed a shocking set of results out of Michigan that should deeply worry anyone concerned about the future competency of our workforce.
Here's most of the early portion of Mr. Pope's report (bold after the headline is mine):
ACT scores down, but more students college-ready
Average scores on the ACT college entrance exam dipped slightly for the high school class of 2008 as the number of students taking the exam jumped by 9 percent compared to last year.
This year's results, released Wednesday, reveal that more than three in four test-takers will likely need remedial help in at least one subject to succeed in college. But the ACT's creators said it was good news that average scores held nearly steady even as more students took the exam. That means the total number who've earned benchmark scores showing they're ready for college-level work is rising.
..... The average ACT composite score was 21.1 for the class of 2008, compared to 21.2 a year ago, on a scale of 1 to 36.
..... A record 1.42 million - or 43 percent - of this year's high school graduates took the ACT. It was the first time a full grade level of students had been required to take the exam in Michigan, which joined Illinois in Colorado as the only states mandating the ACT statewide.
Pope goes on later to tell us that nationwide, "ACT scores continue to show huge gaps remain between the preparation students receive in high school and what they need to succeed in college. Only 22 percent met a benchmark score for college readiness in all four subjects - English, math, reading and science. That's a one-percentage-point decline from last year." It's hard to see how the headline matches the content, especially given the fact that after at least 13 years in school, so many incoming students need at least some remedial help.
But beyond that, you would think someone, somewhere might be curious about how Michigan's ACT test results were affected in the first year it became mandatory.
I was. You'll have a hard time believing what I found.
Here's the raw data of interest contained at Page 7 of the organization's Michigan report (link is to list of individual state pages downloadable as PDFs):
Now, let's apply a bit of the math that many Michigan high school grads apparently are unable to do, in the form of an ACT-like word problem:
Assume that if it weren't for Michigan's 2008 mandate, the number of Wolverine State test takers would have been the same as in 2007, and that they would have turned in the same results on each section of the test as the similar group did in 2007. Also assume that the rest of the test takers would thus be those who only took the ACT because it was required.
Refer to the former group as College-Bound, and the latter group as Not College-Bound.
If the percentage of the College-Bound shown to be ready for college was the same in 2008 in the four primary subjects and "Meeting All Four Parts" as in 2007, what percentage of Not College-Bound test takers was ready for college in each of these five areas? Round your answers to the nearest 0.1%.
Here are the shocking answers:
In words, the chart shows that:
- Less than 28% of high school grads who aren't going to college have the English skills necessary to be ready for college.
- Barely 5% of them have the requisite math knowledge and skills.
- Barely 15% can read well enough to be described as ready for college.
- Less than 6% have the requisite knowledge and skills in science.
- Less than 2% (less than 800 out of 45,000!) are college-ready in all four areas, i.e., 98% of them would need remedial help in at least one area if they chose to try going to college.
Although it would be easy, this isn't a stab at Michigan. The Wolverine State's switch to mandatory ACT testing provided a rare window into what those not going to college know and can do after being run through the educational sausage factory. I don't doubt for a minute that similar depressing results for the Not College-Bound could be found in many, if not most, other states.
Look, we can argue all day long about how imperfectly the ACT test measures how ready someone who has no college plans is for the workplace. But can anyone deny that the required skill set necessary to go beyond the most menial of jobs, and thus to have a meaningful work career, is growing, and that the massive failures seen above -- especially in English, math, and reading -- are anything short of a disaster? In the global marketplace for labor, if employers can't find the necessary skills here, they will find them somewhere else, and America's dangerous slide into job-skills mediocrity will accelerate.
If the alleged journalists at AP like Mr. Pope would do some reporting and stop merely parroting press releases, maybe news like this would get out, and something might be done. Maybe.
Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.