ACT scores are dismal


It is too discouraging to report in too much detail what the ACT said their standardized tests revealed earlier this week.

The outcomes are bad enough in the broadest terms. Nearly one-third of students who took the test this year were unprepared in EVERY key subject area for college, according to an Associated Press report Wednesday. On the first day of college, those students will be unprepared for college-level writing, biology, algebra and social science. They will either flail away at work they cannot do or spend money for (usually) no-credit remedial work.

A smaller number, just 25 percent, should be able to tackle freshman-level work in all core areas. The rest will need remediation in one or more fields. Numbers are worse for minority students, except Asian Americans. Just 5 percent of graduating African American students are fully prepared for college when they start.

So, discouraging.

But almost as frightening is the reported disconnect between high school seniors’ career wish lists and the jobs that are likely to be available to them.

Of course it’s common for high school students to change their minds about what they want to do with their lives, and we know that today’s employees change jobs and even careers far more often than than was common in earlier generations. But fewer students can afford that fifth-year of college that rescued many who were slow to figure out what they wanted to do. And more careers are requiring specialized foundational courses, so starting on the right path is increasingly important.

The ACT compared federal Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers with their questionnaires of students and found students were not all that into the five fastest-growing industries for workers with some college experience, according to the AP.

The BLS estimates that 17 percent of job openings in 2020 will be in education fields; ACT reports just 6 percent of test takers had an interest in the field.

An even bigger disparity showed in computer and information technology fields; just 2 percent of students indicated they would want jobs there, where BLS anticipates 11 percent of 2020 job openings will be.

What do students want to do? According to AP, 7 percent are interested in working in community services, 6 percent in management and 2 percent in sales and marketing; BLS anticipates just 9 percent of openings will be in those combined fields.

Commencement speakers often urge students to follow their passions, and it seems arguably true that one’s best chance to excel will be in a field that offers personal satisfaction and, well, fun.

But how do students who can’t read, write or cipher really know where their passions are? How can a student with few notable academic successes want to work in an education field? How can a student who struggles in math consider information technology as a field?

And how will the society of 15 years from now find the workers it needs if fully a third of ACT test takers appear unlikely to succeed in typical freshman courses?

Standardized tests tell just one part of the story. But the part they tell in this instance is pretty bad.

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Editor’s note: This editorial was originally published in Times Record at Fort Smith.