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Want to Boost ACT College Readiness? Boost Academic Requirements in Classroom

South Dakota high school students as a group consistently post better-than-average standardized test scores. But, like the Governor who appoints them, the members of the South Dakota Board of Regents aren't satisfied with those increasing scores. At their Vermillion meeting last week, they said too many South Dakota high schoolers are coming to the Regental campuses not fully prepared to learn:

The trend has been gradual improvement during the past decade, but as recently as 2011, once again less than 30 percent of South Dakota high school graduates who took the ACT met all four of the test's college-readiness benchmarks.

...Students performed best in English. In 2003, 71 percent reached the benchmark. The percentages gradually climbed, reaching as high as 75 percent in 2007 and 2008. The past three years have been lower, dropping to 72 percent in 2011.

Reading has hovered in the range of 55 to 60 percent through the nine-year span, with 58 percent in 2011. Mathematics has improved slightly, from 47 percent in 2003 to 52 percent in 2011. Science likewise came up, from 30 percent in 2003 to 37 percent in 2011.

The percentage of students reaching the benchmark in all four categories likewise has gone up, from 23 percent in 2003 to 29 percent in 2011 [Bob Mercer, "Regents Lament Low SD ACT Scores," Aberdeen American News, October 11, 2012].

Regent Harvey Jewett wonders if the solution is to pay for every high school junior to take the ACT. That's a bad idea: lots of students are already taking the ACT for practice during junior year, and there are already programs to help kids pay for the test of they can't afford it.

Rather than paying kids for more test prep, we should focus on Regent Terry Baloun's suggestion that we return some rigor to the Regents Scholarship standards. Keep the kids focused on getting good grades in class, where they'll acquire the skills they need to smoke the ACT. Raise the grade requirement from C to B in all classes. Restore the foreign language requirement. Make kids study for their high school classes, and they'll gain much more college readiness than they will be taking the ACT one more time.


  1. Steve O'Brien 2012.10.16

    The concern when our colleges levy this objection that high school graduates are not ready for the college level baffles me. I want to know how those kids, who are so unprepared for college, got into those colleges. The ACT is an entrance exam. If the students are not passing the exam (remember - for entrance) then how were they accepted to that college? Didn't the college know that said students were NOT prepared for their rigor? Why let them in anyway? Sometimes this sounds like colleges, pushing to get more students (and their tuition checks) in the door, complaining about the low quality of the students they chose to accept. If scores indicate they are not ready, how do they get in?

    At my high school, students with the full advice and consent of their parents are choosing to take the non-college prep classwork. They do this fully with the expectation that after high school, they will go to college. How can schools get more students ready for academic rigor when those students choose to avoid it.

  2. Michael Black 2012.10.16

    This is pretty easy: get rid of the computers for most of the class time. Use real world situations to develop problem-solving skills. Innovate. Innovate. Innovate. Even the good teachers are boxed in by unneeded rules and regulations.

  3. Donald Pay 2012.10.16

    Cory, you are so right. This is just another in a decades long-whine from the Board of Regents, who haven't done on constructive thing to improve education. Funny how they will take that money from all those unqualified students, isn't it, but then whine about remedial courses.

    All the Board of Regents has to do is raise their admission standards, and stop admitting those students who aren't qualified. Then high school students would be forced to take rigourous course loads. They won't do that. Money talks.

  4. Michael Black 2012.10.16

    Smart people don't put barriers in the way of success.

  5. PNR 2012.10.16

    I think the temperature in Gehenna just dropped precipitously. I agree, without reservation, with something on this blog. :-)

    "Make kids study for their high school classes, and they'll gain much more college readiness than they will be taking the ACT one more time."

    Make an "A" mean quality work, not an effort to boost self esteem. Build esteem via difficult work that is accomplished.

    Of course, the temperature will return to a more normal heat once we discuss what is to be done to actually make that happen, but still...

  6. larry kurtz 2012.10.16

    1) middle schools should be eliminated.
    2) high schools should insist on business casual except on Fridays.
    3) women and men in high school should be instructed in separate classrooms.
    4) school boards should have an elected representative from the high school student population
    5) teachers must be union members
    6) districts should have the flexibility to experiment with curricula, including year-round sessions
    7) American Indian languages should meet the world language requirement

  7. Stan Gibilisco 2012.10.16

    Well, "getting tough" can work to a point, but nothing works like great teachers.

    I had fabulous teachers all the way through elementary school, "junior high" school, and high school in Rochester, Minneosta from 1960 to 1972, with a couple of exceptions.

    Let's give our teachers a hefty pay raise across the board for starters. I guess a penny sales tax increase could go partly to that end in a perfect world.

    Sadly, I see kids these days being forced to behave as robots-in-training for toil in a humorless world. When our local librarian told me how kids these days are tested and tested and tested, and how the entire educational system seems geared to the passing of tests rather than the living of live, I was shocked.

    Egads, I was a lucky kid.

  8. Shamrock 2012.10.16

    I agree with the posters who said these students should not be admitted if they are not prepared. Basically if you have a pulse and a diploma you get into a state school. I wonder, why are USD and SDSU paying for billboards in Rapid City? It's because colleges want to operate like a business, more studnets = more dollars. It has nothing to do with learning or preparedness, it has to do with colleges wanting to cash more tuition checks.

  9. Les 2012.10.16

    Very good Larry, all but the union thing.

    This is not only about kids not ready for college, it's also about colleges pumping out uneducated, untrained and unable in basic life skills.

  10. Michael Black 2012.10.17

    I would challenge those who are whining the most about how unprepared high school graduates are today to try to help their teenage kids with their homework. While we may have the clear advantage when it comes to the subjects of history and government, we would fall short in most of the other classes.

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