The majority of first-year college students in the United States do not have the fundamental skills to be successful in college, according to a recently released ACT report.
The ACT reported that only 25 percent of students in 2011 met all four of the subject area benchmarks. The standardized exam, which has been testing students’ college readiness since 1959, tests high school students’ English, math, science and reading skills.
The ACT defines college readiness as the acquisition of the knowledge a student needs to be successful in their first year of courses in a post-secondary institution.
Quentin Berger, an assistant professor in the department of mathematics at USC who primarily teaches freshman students, said the fundamental skills acquired during high school prove important in collegiate level classes.
“Students must know the basic concepts to move on in higher college level math,” Berger said. “Many of the students I have taught so far this year have needed a refresher in basic concepts.”
Some freshmen said they have also experienced the need to review the fundamentals to succeed in their classes.
“I’m in Thematic Option, and with my writing class, I had to relearn the format and learn the right way to phrase things for an analytical paper,” said Dan Graham, a freshman majoring in international relations.
When looking at first-year students enrolled in a four-year private institution, the percentage of students who have attained the fundamental skills for college is higher. Sixty-four percent of students met three or more of the ACT-determined benchmarks.
Over the years, USC’s average ACT score has slowly risen, showing the rise in academic expectations for its incoming students. For this year’s freshmen class, the middle 50 percent of students had a composite ACT score between 29 and 33. The highest possible score for the ACT is 36.
Director of Undergraduate Admissions Kirk Brennan said that test scores are an important factor in admission decisions, but they are not the only factor.
“Scores are worried about too much,” he said. “We’re also aware of [the tests’] limitations … I think that we know when to make a bet on a student who might show other strengths where we think that the score might not be an indicator of future success. Too often people worry about the score when they should worry about pursuing rigorous thought and intellectual growth.”
Thomas Leonard, a freshman majoring in business administration, said he doesn’t agree that the ACT is an adequate measure of a student’s college readiness.
“I don’t know if [the ACT] shows ability,” Leonard said. “Standardized tests show how hard you can study and who has the most money for tutors to help them study.”
Katie Murphy, a freshman majoring in electrical engineering, said her own personal experiences show why standardized tests are not always the best predictor.
“I didn’t do as well on the science portion as the rest of the test even though I took AP science classes in high school,” she said. “The science section wasn’t, ‘Do you know how to do this?’ but more of, ‘Can you read this graph quickly?’”
Despite some USC students’ concerns that their ACT scores don’t have a strong correlation to their actual academic ability, many still said they believe some benchmark test is needed.
“There has to be some sort of standard to show someone’s ability,” Leonard said. “You have to take tests.”
Though tests carry significance, students believe that standardized tests should highlight other strengths a college-bound person might possess.
“Some students have talents in other areas that a test cannot show,” Graham said. “Some individual talents that make students exceptional cannot always be shown on a standardized test.”