Most often, my comments about the condition of education are directed at the end of it that is clearly failing: high drop-out rates, low graduation rates, chronic absenteeism, dangerous classrooms, uninvolved parents, and uninspired teachers. The children whose futures are compromised by these things are a civic tragedy.
This week’s news about the state’s most recent ACT scores should direct our attention to a different part of the education system. Two-thirds of the state’s eligible students took the ACT, a standardized test that measures high school achievement in English, math reading, and science. By the very fact of showing up, this group of students characterized themselves as generally better organized and better prepared than the third of students who did not take the test. Their average score was 21.6 (out of 36), slightly above the national average. (In the City last year, the average score was 16.1, though most SLPS students took the test.)
Aside from the obvious fact that being slightly above average is hardly an endorsement for excellence in education, only one in four of the Missouri test-takers demonstrated college-ready skills in all four subjects.
The situation concerns State Education Commissioner Chris Nicastro. And it should concern all of us. Thirteen years of education — an accomplishment that eludes too many St. Louis students — is still only leaving one in five students ready for college or well-prepared for the workplace. (And college-ready is also career-ready — for going into the trades, attending tech schools, or opening a business.)
Our efforts to improve education must include our most challenged students, but it they should also include better choices for all students.