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ACT Report: 24 Percent of Texas High School Grads Are College Ready

Only about a quarter of the state's Class of 2012 students are college ready, according to a new report by the ACT. Texas Education Agency officials attribute the numbers to an increase in students taking the test.

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A report released Tuesday by a nonprofit research and assessment organization indicates that only about a quarter of Texas high school graduates are prepared for college.

The Condition of College and Career Readiness Report for Texas is based on ACT scores, which students typically take so they can use the test to apply for college. Of the 39 percent of graduating seniors who took the ACT, 24 percent of the Class of 2012 met all four benchmarks in English, reading, mathematics and science. That percentage has been stagnant since 2010, and is just below the national average of 25 percent.

That suggests an even bleaker college readiness picture than the Texas Education Agency's estimate of 47 percent, which in addition to ACT scores accounts for students' performance on state standardized tests and the SAT

Texas is outpaced nationally in every subject except for math, in which 48 percent of students met benchmarks, versus the national average of 46 percent. About 32 percent of Texas graduates didn’t meet any benchmarks. However, ACT composite scores have been on the rise, increasing from an average of 20.1 in 2007 to 20.5 in 2010. By contrast, SAT scores have fallen from an average of 991 in 2007 to 985 in 2010.

When broken down by race, test scores show a stark contrast in readiness. Asian students in Texas did the best on the ACT by far, with 68 percent meeting at least three benchmarks, and black students tested most poorly, with 15 percent meeting three or more benchmarks. The national report focused on students who met all four benchmarks when comparing test scores among races. About 42 percent of Asian students and 5 percent of black students met every benchmark nationally.

Broken down by subject, Texas data shows students struggled most in science and did the best in English, with 29 percent and 61 percent meeting the benchmarks, respectively. 

DeEtta Culbertson, a Texas Education Agency spokeswoman, attributed the scores to an increase in the number of students taking the test, a figure that has risen nearly 40 percent to 110,180 since 2008. 

“There's always room for improvement, but we're also encouraged by seeing more and more taking the test and thinking they want to go to college,” Culbertson said.

Between 2008 and 2012, the number of students taking the ACT grew by 39 percent compared with a 17 percent increase nationally.

According to the ACT report, about 85 percent of the Texas Class of 2012 want to obtain a bachelor's degree or higher, and a quarter of them expressed interest in the state's five fastest-growing career fields — education, management, marketing and sales, computer information and community services.

But with only a fraction of students seemingly ready to pursue their goals, Culbertson said the state is taking steps to incorporate more of the college readiness standards into the core curriculum and textbooks. She said the new STAAR test replacing the TAKS standardized test this year, which was designed to be more closely aligned to curriculum standards, will also help.

“I think as we continue to build on those priorities, we'll see an uptick in the numbers,” Culbertson said.

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