The College Board reported last week that 43 percent of college-bound students are academically ready for college. This means that less than half of those who took the test this year are likely to maintain a B- average or higher during their freshman year of college. The figure shouldn't be a surprise to anyone involved in higher education. In community colleges, it isn't unusual for three-quarters of the entering students to need some sort of catch-up course. Still, it's a problem for a country that seems to be in agreement that an increase in college graduates would help grow the economy and shrink the poverty rate.
Let's look at these numbers a little bit more closely. Math scores have remained stable over the last four years. That in itself is good news, since falling behind in high school math is the surest way to eliminate the most lucrative of college majors--the science, technology, and engineering fields that both President Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney are encouraging. Moreover, educators are well aware that reading and writing is harder to teach and harder to test than math.
Writing scores have declined by four and five points respectively. That's not good, but it could be worse. And the population of test takers is also expanding, largely in disadvantaged populations. The SAT test takers grew from 1.56 million in 2008 to 1.66 million this year, making 2012 the largest class of test takers in history. The number of test takers who qualify for a fee waiver has increased by 61 percent over four years. Almost half of the test takers this year were minorities (45 percent), up from 38 percent in 2008. The proportion of test takers who came from non-English speaking or bilingual homes increased by 10 points over 10 years.
How significant is the 43 percent figure in judging the quality of the future workforce? Does the expanded population of test takers explain the decline in reading and writing scores? How could the SAT test be improved? Are there other measures that can predict a student's success in college? What can be done to improve tests on reading and writing? What can be done to improve reading and writing instruction?