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Wednesday, March 01, 2006

ACT Study Reveals Huge Achievement Gaps

I’m sure that a lot of articles will follow the lead of the Washington Post’s “Study: Reading Key to College Success”, but those articles will miss the real story embedded in the actual ACT report, "Reading Between the Lines". The real story is the insanely huge achievement gaps among subgroups on the ACT. As for teachers and professional development types there is gold buried in the report when it comes to understanding ACT passages.

According to the folks who wrote the report, an ACT score of 21 out of 36 in reading indicates that a student is college ready. College readiness is defined as having a 75 percent chance of getting a C or better in a course, a 50 percent chance of getting a B or better. Of course students who don’t get a 21 are at risk for a whole bunch of disappointment, not the least of which is being labeled not having sufficient workplace literacy.

The report finds that only 51 percent of the tested students in 2005 met the college ready benchmark. Significantly there is a 38 point gap between African American (21 percent score 21 or higher) and white students (59 percent score 21 or higher). However an even larger gap, 37 points, exists between students who come from families that make less than $33K (33 percent) versus students who come from families making in excess of $100K (70 percent). I’m sure that the Illinois State Board of Education will check out this report, convene a blue ribbon panel, and issue a report of their own.

Fortunately, the ACT has a solution that involves policy makers and teachers. The ACT contends that policy makers need to draft better, more thorough reading standards—like the EPAS standards drafted by the ACT, huh? Problem solved—adopt the ACT’s standards, teach to the test, and then use the ACT as your accountability mechanism. Done.

As for teachers, the ACT recommends using more sophisticated texts with students. No argument from me on that. In my experience, once students acquire the tools to take apart text, they get hooked on it, and the best texts to take apart are the most sophisticated. The sad truth for many kids who attend urban schools is that the first time many kids encounter a sophisticated text is either on the ACT or as part of an ACT prep course; this reveals a lot about the state of urban education, teacher expectations, and instruction. According to the ACT, having students work sophisticated texts can result in a “10 point” increase on the reading test. It’s true, I’ve witnessed this effect though my involvement in policy debate. Among other things, policy debate teaches students how to critically evaluate and manipulate sophisticated texts. It is no surprise that debaters kick ACT ass.

I can’t overstate the importance of using sophisticated texts with students. A few years ago I created and implemented a whole school reading program that was EPAS aligned and inculcated students with an approach to critical reading transferable to ACT texts. Not surprisingly test scores went up as students outpaced expected gains as measured by the ACT Link Report, and the district.

One more thing, as a teacher and professional development guy, I loved the Appendix of the report where the folks at ACT walk the reader through the sophistication of ACT reading passages. I loved it! It is helpful because it clarifies what an ACT reading passage is, and we all know that clarity is crucial.

For added clarity don't forget to visit my ACT Reading Prep Posts:

Quick and Dirty Guide to Raising PSAE Scores
PSAE Test Prep Strategies that Work
ACT Reading Prep and the Two-Point Conversion
Maximizing Brain Power on the ACT Reading Test
Realizing Focused Active Reading During the ACT

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