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Editorial: ACT results show U.S. needs school reforms

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In the United States, 74 percent of high school graduates are not ready for college-level writing, biology, algebra or social science classes, according to the benchmarks set by the ACT test. Shocking as it seems, just over a quarter of the test takers are ready to do college work in all four areas.

In New Mexico, 81 percent aren’t ready.

The benchmarks in those four core subject areas are designed to show a student has the knowledge needed to succeed in college or trade school without taking remedial courses. “Succeed” means a 75 percent chance of earning a C and a 50 percent chance of earning a B. Not the highest of bars.

Yes, New Mexico’s 2013 test-takers did improve two points over 2012, when 83 percent failed to reach benchmarks in those four core subject areas; nationally students improved just one point, from 75 percent. But considering the ground that has to be covered if today’s students are going to be tomorrow’s workforce, there’s little to cheer about.

Because all the results are pathetic.

ACT says 13,423 of New Mexico’s 2013 graduates took its test, and of those just over half, 56 percent, met the English benchmark. It was worse in reading, with just 38 percent reaching the target. For math it was just 33 percent; science only 29 percent. In fact, more than a third of students – 38 percent – met no benchmarks at all.

And it gets worse.

Because not only are most high school students not even remotely ready for college or trade school when they graduate, they are not interested in studying subjects that will lead to jobs in the state’s five fastest-growing career fields: education, management, community services, marketing/sales and computer/information specialties. Even worse, many of those that are interested in those fields “fall short of meeting ACT College Readiness Benchmarks, suggesting that they are not on the right path to take advantage of career opportunities in these high-growth fields.”

Begging the question how much of the class of 2013 will be able to join the workforce someday as productive members of society?

In recent years New Mexico has made strides in adding accountability to its K-12 public education system, giving schools letter grades and linking teacher evaluations to student performance. United Way is serving as the backbone organization for Mission: Graduate, which aims to increase the number of post-secondary degrees earned in the area. And the University of New Mexico is revamping its College of Education to make its degree relevant in K-12 classrooms while also instituting summer jump-start courses to reduce the number of freshmen who will need remedial classes. Those are some of the important steps designed to improve the landscape the state’s graduating high school seniors will face, and more are needed.

Because New Mexico’s students deserve more than being woefully unprepared for the jobs that do exist.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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