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Editorial: ACT test results back up need for education reform

If you think New Mexico’s public school system is just fine and doesn’t need sweeping reforms, consider these college readiness statistics.

According to ACT’s annual report, this year’s average score for New Mexico high school graduates who took the company’s college readiness assessment was 19.9 out of a possible 36. The national average was 21.

But that’s not the worst news about our performance on the ACT, which is widely used by colleges and universities, especially in this part of the country, as a significant factor in deciding who is admitted. Some students instead take the SAT or both tests.

According to ACT, about 69 percent of New Mexico’s 2014 graduating class of 12,945 students took the test. That comes to about 8,930 students, and in a positive note, this number exceeds the national average of 57 percent.

But of those who took the test, only about 30 percent met “college-ready” benchmarks in at least three of four core subjects – reading, writing, math and science. That’s about 2,680 students – or, slightly under 21 percent of all New Mexico graduates.

(About 38 percent of New Mexico students who took the test did not meet any of those benchmarks – about 3,390 students. And, for a more complete picture, consider that these numbers don’t take into account the 30 percent or so of New Mexico public school students who drop out.)

The University of New Mexico, which requires incoming students to take the ACT, has found that many freshmen are ill-prepared for college and need remedial classes. About 35 percent have to take at least one remedial class. Only 20 percent of freshmen who need remedial classes graduate in six years.

While some complain about reforms like the state-required End of Course exams, which measure proficiencies in subjects like English, algebra, biology or social studies, these tests would seem to be an important measure for both the student and the education system in assessing potential college success and what can be done to boost it. It doesn’t really matter if you can pass a test given by the teacher in a chemistry class, if the test itself doesn’t measure what is considered basic knowledge.

And even if we did away with standardized testing in the schools, eventually the college-bound student will have to take some type of college readiness test.

If the goal is to prepare students who want to go to college for the challenge, then the testing reforms that were started during the Bill Richardson administration and are being pursued under the Susana Martinez administration are the right direction.

Otherwise New Mexico can stay right where it always has been – at or near the bottom of the education barrel.

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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