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ACT Report Finds Students' College Readiness Doesn't Meet Aspirations

Today, ACT Inc. released its latest report of student performance for the high school graduating class of 2013 showing that although most aspire to get a college degree, the majority are not academically ready.

Just 26 percent of test-takers met all of the ACT college-readiness benchmarks in English, reading, math, and science. There were 39 percent who met three or more, but also 31 who did not meet any of the standards, which represent a score predicted to be high enough to likely score a B or C in a college-level course.

(For the complete story, go to the Education Week homepage.)

Other interesting findings, not in the main ACT story, include information about students' future college and career plans.

Aspirations to attend college are high, with about 87 percent of 2013 class test-takers wanting to attain at least a two-year postsecondary degrees, ACT reports. About 44 percent would like to earn a bachelor's degree, and 36 percent say graduate-level work is their goal. Aspirations did not vary much by racial/ethnic group, although more Asians say graduate school was in their future.

Unfortunately, those high hopes don't translate into degrees for many students, and the odds are particularly worse for students of color and those from low-income families. Success is linked to more than grades.

ACT officials emphasize success in college and career takes not only academic knowledge, but also personal skills, such as grit. By looking at the responses of 8th graders who took the ACT Explore and ACT Engage assessments, ACT has evidence that students with higher levels of motivation, social engagement, and self-regulation behavior are more likely to get higher grades, enroll in more activities, and have fewer disciplinary issues in high school and enroll in college.

Experts say this means families, counselors (high school and college), mentors, and others need to guide young people and help equip them with the life skills needed to not only survive, but thrive in college.

Another part of the new ACT report looks at the fastest-growing career fields in the next decade: education, computer/information specialties, community service, management, and marketing/sales. According to the responses of the class of 2013 test-takers, not enough students are expressing interest in those fields to keep up with the demand.

For example, while job openings in computer/information specialties are expected to account for 11 percent of all job openings in 2020, just 2 percent of ACT test-takers expressed an interest in that field. In education, projections are that 17 percent of job openings will be in education, and just 6 percent of students will want to pursue that as a career.

For the first time, in the 2013 class, ACT asked students about their interest in STEM careers and examined how that matched their college readiness by subject. Of the recent high school graduates taking the ACT, one in 10 expressed an interest in a STEM major or occupation. Those who gravitated to those fields were more likely to have met the ACT college-readiness benchmarks in all four subject areas.

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