Our Kids are Alright(at least the college bound ones)
In the last month both the ACT and the SAT testing programs, the college entrance exams taken by almost all college bound high school students, reported their results for the high school class of 2012. Both testing programs included information on what they called “college and career readiness” by providing data on the percentage of students who met each test’s college/career readiness benchmark. Each benchmark is a combination of scores which predicts a specific level of success in a student’s freshman year of college (so much for the career part).
SAT’s benchmark is a 65% chance of achieving a B- average or better in in the freshman year of college (which is a little higher than ACT’s). SAT claims that 43% of SAT test takers met their college readiness standard. This number rises to 49% for students who take a “college core course sequence” in high school and falls to 30% for students who do not.
Taking a college core sequence (think A-G, the UC and CSU minimum entrance requirements) in high school increases the likelihood of a student’s SAT score by 144 points on average on a 2400 point scale. Students with 4 years or more of math have a 93% chance of a score over 2100 out of 2400 and students with 4+ years of science have an 85% chance of 2100+. Scores over 2100 are considered pretty darn good for most universities (UCLA, the most selective of the UC campuses had an average of 2028 for students accepted for this fall).
About 55% of California high school graduates took the SAT and students scored just about at the national average (National/California): Reading 496/495, Math 514/512, Writing 488/496, Total 1498/1503. White Californians outscored White students nationally by 18 points in Reading, 15 points in Math and 25 points in Writing. Asian students had minor (3-4 points) leads over Asians nationally in Reading and Writing but were 21 points BEHIND the Asian national average in Math. African American Californians outscored African Americans nationally by the same margins as White students but on each test were 100 points behind White students. SAT separates Hispanics into 3 separate groups so it is hard to make comparisons. Nevertheless, Mexican American Californians are only a couple of points off the national average for Mexican Americans and 4 points ahead in writing. Other Hispanics (SAT reports Puerto Ricans separately) in California were 13 points behind in Reading, 19 points behind in Math and 5 points behind in reading compared to Other Hispanics nationally.
The takeaway from the paragraph above is: In total and in most subgroups students in California did as well or better than the rest of the country on the SAT test. Our college going students are as well prepared as those from most states. Among states with 50% or more of grads taking the test, only 7 had higher Reading scores, 6 had higher Math scores and 7 had higher Writing scores. (SAT advises not making state comparisons with less than 50% participation because of selection bias issues in states where more students take the ACT.)
ACT handles college readiness a little differently. They benchmark ACT scores and predict college readiness from each of their four test areas. Their benchmark definition is a 50% chance of getting a B- or better or 75% chance of a C- or better in first year college classes. In each area California students did better than the national average BUT that may be because some states now require all students to take the ACT as a graduation requirement which will tend to hold down scores. (Although the ACT is more popular nationally, the SAT tests about twice as many California students as the ACT.)
Here are the percentages of students who took the ACT who met the college readiness benchmark:
- English Composition 67% nationally, 72% California
- Social Science 52% nationally, 58% California
- College Algebra 46% nationally, 58% California
- Biology 31% nationally 35% California
- All four areas 25% nationally, 31% California.
They also looked at high school courses taken. In California, 16% of students who meet the minimum math requirements of Algebra I, Geometry and Algebra II are college ready. If a student takes a 4th year of math, that percentage increases to 65%. Takeaway: A 4th year of math quadruples a student’s chances of college math success.
ACT is composed of four tests (English, Mathematics, Reading and Science), each graded on a 36 point scale as well as a 36 point composite scale score. California ACT test takers tended to score about one point above the national average on each test and the composite score (National/California): English 20.5/21.6, Math 21.1/22.8, Reading 21.3/22.1, Science 21.1/21.5, Composite 21.1/22.1. Similarly, White, Asian, Hispanic and African-American students scored about half a point to 2 points higher than their counterparts nationally. Again, since a much smaller proportion of California high school graduates take the ACT compared to some other states, their performance compared to the national scores is probably exaggerated to some extent.
Nevertheless, the ACT results are parallel to the SAT results and indicate that California’s college bound students are doing as well as those from the rest of the nation.