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State Proficiency Standards are Inadequate for College Readiness
January 23, 2012
Earlier this month, NWEA released a new study providing estimates of the RIT scale scores on MAP reading, math, and language usage tests that correspond to the college readiness benchmarks on the ACT, PLAN and EXPLORE tests. ACT is one of the two major exams taken by high school students in preparation for applying to college, and its college readiness benchmarks are the ACT scale scores that predict at least a 50% chance of getting a B or better, and a 75% chance of getting a C or better in a freshman level course in the same subject. The EXPLORE and the PLAN are additional tests offered by ACT, Inc. that can be taken in eighth and tenth grades, respectively. According to research done by ACT, students who meet the college readiness benchmarks on EXPLORE and PLAN are on track to meet the corresponding benchmarks on the ACT by the time they finish high school.
One of the benefits of the new NWEA study is that it expresses the college readiness benchmarks of the three ACT tests (ACT, PLAN, and EXPLORE) on the MAP scale, which makes it possible to compare these benchmarks directly to the state proficiency standards that have also been linked to the MAP scale in prior studies.
The two figures below show the eighth grade proficiency standards in math and reading, respectively, for 35 and 36 states. The lines across the top of the figures show the ACT EXPLORE college readiness benchmarks in math or reading, expressed on the NWEA RIT scale as normative percentiles. Remember, the EXPLORE college readiness benchmarks are the performance levels that ACT researchers have found to be predictive of college readiness by the end of high school, where they define “college readiness” as a 50% probability of receiving at least a B on a freshman level course in the same subject, or a 75% chance of receiving at least a C. What these figures clearly show is that no state that NWEA has studied sets eighth grade standards that are difficult enough to put students on track for college readiness. Even Massachusetts and California, with some of the most difficult eighth grade mathematics standards in the country, are not requiring students to meet college readiness standards. In reading, no state even comes close.
In all fairness, one must acknowledge that current state proficiency standards are not intended to be college readiness standards. They’re intended to denote a minimum level of performance that 100% of students within schools can meet. But with all the rhetoric one hears about how the re-authorization of ESEA should include requirements that states establish “college and career ready standards”, there is a vast need for research that connects new state standards with objective measures of college readiness, such as the ACT college readiness benchmarks. As the national consortia continue their work on the development of national summative assessments for school accountability, I hope that they will keep this in mind.
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