“Teaching to the test” is a common complaint of public school teachers whose students have an increasingly difficult time passing such examinations with the passage of every school year.
“Teach to the test, please,” Richard Ferguson of the ACT advises, “because the skills we are measuring are the skills that are needed.” Ferguson spoke at a conference at the Willard Intercontinental Hotel here in which the ACT released its new report, which is entitled “Ready to Succeed: All Students Prepared for College and Work.”
The ACT that Ferguson heads administers one of the two most widely-used college entrance exams in the United States. At least those teachers who dread exams such as the ACT might be consistent. The odds are that they didn’t handle such tests very well as students either. Governor Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota, who also spoke at the conference, pointed out that the aggregate number of college graduates who take up teaching represent the bottom third of scores on the ACT and the SAT.
Ferguson has worked with the ACT for more than 30 years. “Where the United States used to be number one, we are now ninth in the world in high school rankings and 10th in college rankings,” he points out.
“NAM [the National Association of Manufacturers] did an important survey in which 90 percent of their members reported a shortage of skilled workers,” Ferguson said. “Specifically, they lack reading, writing and communications skills.”
“Toyota is building a plant in Canada because they can find a higher skill level there,” Ferguson notes. Arthur Rothkopf of the United States Chamber of Commerce agrees. “Businesses spend hundreds of millions of dollars in remediation in workforce training,” Rothkopf told the crowd. The USCOC represents three million businesses nationwide—small, medium and large, according to Rothkopf.
“The K-12 system is not doing what it has to do,” Rothkopf says. “Studies showing that most parents are satisfied with their children’s schools points up part of the problem. The public is unaware of the problem.”
“Out of every ten students who enter ninth grade, seven will graduate high school in four years, four will go on to post-secondary education and two will earn a Bachelor’s or Associate’s degree,” Ferguson reports.
“Far too many students are not being educated for either college or the work force,” Cynthia Schmeiser, also of the ACT, concluded. “Two-thirds of new jobs require post secondary education.”
“They need math and reading skills to enter the work force or to enter college without remediation.” Schmeiser is the senior vice president for research and development.
“Seventy-five percent of our students require remediation in the first year of college,” Keith Bird, chancellor of the Kentucky Community and Technical College System, says, explaining the mushrooming of remedial courses in institutions of higher learning. Bird recommends changing pedagogy and teacher training. “The line between high school and college is becoming blurred,” he observes.
Malcolm A. Kline is the executive director of Accuracy in Academia.