ACT reports that a staggering 75% of students are unprepared for college. What’s more, many of these students were unprepared even after taking the ACT-recommended core curriculum.
Of course there’s value in a core curriculum—we’ve said so often. In general, students who took a core curriculum (four years of English and three years of science, math, and social studies) did do better on the ACT:
- Nearly half of the students who took the ACT-recommended math curriculum passed the ACT college-readiness benchmark; in contrast to only 3% of students who took less than the recommended curriculum.
- In English, 68% of the students who took the recommended core curriculum achieved the benchmark, while only 40% of those who did not take the recommended core made the cut.
But, disaggregated, ACT’s numbers tell a more complicated story: Barely 4% of African Americans and 11% of Hispanics met ACT benchmarks. This, in spite of the fact that 70% of these students took the recommended core curriculum.
ACT rightly points to the “the inequity of the rigor of the curriculum and of school systems as a whole.” The problem is two-fold: Many students don’t have access to higher-level courses. Nearly half a million students attend public schools that don’t offer Algebra II or equivalent courses.
But, even at schools offering the “right” courses, all-too many Algebra II—and AP and honors—courses lack real rigor, in spite of high standards like the Common Core State Standards. Teachers cover standards and teach courses with varying depth, expectations and quality of content. As Fordham’s Kathleen Porter-Magee writes, “Blogs about boats may be entertaining but they don’t put you on the track to tackle college-level reading. It’s not fair to students to pretend they do.”
It’s not fair to students, but, with so many standards to cover and so much content to teach, it’s easy to graduate students with meaningless diplomas.
Stephanie Porowski and Meagan Estep