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Knowing, Deciding and Succeeding: Lessons from the Condition of College and Career Readiness

Knowing can be a double-edged sword. Everyone wants to know when the news is good, but when the news is mixed – some good, some not-so-good – “knowing” can also be a mixed bag.

This year’s Condition of College and Career Readiness report found that overall scores for ACT-tested U.S. high school graduates were down slightly, but for students who took the ACT-recommended core curriculum, scores stayed steady.

The underlying message from these findings?

Rigorous courses matter. A strong curriculum, taught well by teachers and tackled with enthusiasm by students, results in young people being better prepared for college and career.

Historical Context

Those who have been reading our blog over the past several months are aware that this year is ACT’s 60th anniversary. It is hard to imagine a more appropriate antecedent to the just-released Condition report than the following excerpt from E.F. Lindquist’s 1958 list of requirements for an ideal college admissions exam.

Lindquist wrote that on his ideal test, “the advantage should obviously be given” to students who make the most of their “abilities in the school years preceding college. The examination should clearly constitute an incentive to elementary and high school students to work harder at the job of getting ready for college.”

To that end, Lindquist insisted his ideal test – which would soon become the ACT – must reinforce what students were being taught through high quality curricula. Per Lindquist:

The best way of preparing for the examination and the best way of preparing for college should be identical. The best “coaching” procedure should be the same as the best instructional procedures at the high school level.

Lindquist urged students, teachers, and society to take the results of tests seriously. As he wrote in 1966, he believed that when they knew how well they were doing, each group could use those insights to inform what they should do next to achieve education and workplace success.

Not only teachers, school administrators; and school board members, but pupils and parents; and the general public as well should, through these services, be better prepared to make the many educational decisions that are required of them.

Modern Recommendations

Lindquist’s aspirations and admonitions stand up remarkably well after 60 years. This year’s Condition report provides four recommendations for increasing the number of students who are ready for college and career when they graduate from high school:

1. Rigor: Ensure that all students take rigorous academic courses.

2. Personalization: Give educators the resources needed to personalize instruction according to each student’s individual needs.

3. Continuous improvement: Assess student learning and implement improvement strategies throughout each student’s educational careers.

4. Holistic education: Address the needs of the “whole learner,” particularly in essential noncognitive skills in social and emotional learning.

Knowing is not always easy, but it’s important. If we each do more of what we know is good for us, it is far more likely our shared stories will have the outcomes to which we all aspire.

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About ACT

ACT is a mission-driven, nonprofit organization dedicated to helping people achieve education and workplace success. Grounded in 60 years of research, ACT is a trusted leader in college and career readiness solutions. Each year, ACT serves millions of students, job seekers, schools, government agencies and employers in the US and around the world with learning resources, assessments, research and credentials designed to help them succeed from elementary school through career.