by Mary Beth Marklein, USA TODAY
More than half of 2012 high school graduates who took a college entrance exam did not have all of the skills they will need to succeed in college or a career, a pair of recent reports conclude.
Findings released today by the non-profit College Board show that 57% of 2012 graduating seniors who took the SAT, which it owns, earned a combined score below what it says demonstrates that students are likely to earn a B-minus or better in their first year at a four-year college.
A report released last month by the Iowa City-based ACT, also a non-profit, found that at least 60% of 2012 high school graduates who took its test are similarly at risk of not succeeding in college.
The tests measure different skills, but colleges that require standardized admissions tests generally accept scores from either test. Average scores this year for both tests showed relatively small changes from last year and similar trends over the last several years:
SAT: Average critical reading and writing scores have declined since 2008, to 496 and 488, respectively, while average math scores have remained stable at 514. Just 4% of test takers achieved a total score above 2100. The highest possible score is 2400.
ACT: Reading and English scores have dipped slightly since 2008, to 21.3 and 20.5, respectively, while math and science have increased, to 21.1 and 20.9, respectively. The average composite score is 21.1 out of a possible 36.
Bob Schaeffer, spokesman for FairTest, the National Center for Fair & Open Testing, said Monday that the dip in SAT scores show that high-stakes testing programs such as the federal No Child Left Behind law "have been a colossal failure."
But the SAT and ACT reports attribute relatively flat scores partly to an increasingly diverse pool of students taking their tests. The College Board, for example, reports a 61% increase since 2008 in the number of low-income test takers, based on requests for fee waivers.
College Board vice president Jim Montoya said Monday average scores can increase if more students have access to a rigorous college-prep curriculum.
"This report is a call to action," Montoya said. "We intend to prove that a student's potential is limited only by his or her efforts."
The increased participation also reflects a growing emphasis among states on preparing students for college. Nine states require high school students to take the ACT. Two states require the SAT; a third will require it starting next year.
Moreover, by the 2014-15 academic year, 46 states will have put into place some or all of a set of common core state standards developed by the Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices. Both the College Board and ACT are involved in the initiative.
"The expectation will no longer be just to graduate students but to really be preparing students for college," says Chris Minnich, senior membership director of the council. "We don't think every student is going to be going to college, but we do think students should have the opportunity, have the option."