College and Career Readiness Here and Abroad

Wednesday, May 25, 2011Printer-friendly version

ACT's latest policy report "Affirming the Goal: Is College and Career Readiness an Internationally Competitive Standard?" shows that the nation's college and career readiness goal is not just ambitious, but attainable — and necessary if we want high school graduates to be able to compete with their global peers. In its report, ACT approximated the "college- and career-ready" line on the scale of PISA scores (an assessment of 15-year olds' literacy and problem solving skills) by linking the international assessment to scores on ACT's test for tenth-graders that indicates a student's readiness for college and career. Only a small handful of countries have students already meeting or exceeding this college- and career-ready level. According to ACT, the results show that the performance standard of college and career readiness — and therefore the new Common Core State Standards, which were designed to help all U.S. students become ready for college and career — is internationally competitive, falling well within the range of the highest-performing countries on PISA reading and math.

Specifically, ACT found that the tenth-grade college and career readiness benchmark was significantly higher than the OECD average on PISA, and higher than the U.S. average on either test. In reading, for example, only Shanghai, Korea, Finland, and Hong Kong significantly surpassed the college readiness benchmark score. In mathematics, the U.S. lags even further behind the college and career readiness benchmark.

Research like this further supports the importance and value of rigorous, college- and career-ready standards that aim to prepare all students for life after high school and ensure our graduates are competitive with their international peers. This is precisely why international expectations played an important role in shaping the Common Core State Standards. The standards of many of the high-performing countries, including those listed above, informed the development of the Common Core, as did the frameworks for Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) and Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), in terms of their content, organization, focus and coherence. Benchmarking activities done now, such as ACT's new report and a series of briefs Achieve developed that compare the new common standards to the expectations of high-performing countries, go a long way towards reaffirming the fact that the Common Core strongly compare to, and even build upon, the best benchmarks in the world.

This latest study confirms what we already know: too many American students are not performing at a college- and career-ready level. Yet, at the same time, it gives encouragement that the "college- and career-ready line" in the Common Core State Standards is drawn at the right place, and if met, would put American students near the top of the international pack.

The report's Executive Summary can be found here. Achieve's resources and research around international benchmarking can be found here. Both Achieve and ACT were involved in the development of the Common Core State Standards.