College Readiness – It’s in the Math

College Readiness – It’s in the Math

What academic courses do high school students need to take to be pass their college courses when they arrive on campus? That’s the $10,000 question since scholarships are tied to students passing their courses. It seems a waste for students and parents to invest time, energy, and money in the whole college planning process only to find that when students arrive on campus, they’re not ready to do the work required in classes. The harsh reality is many students find themselves overwhelmed by the amount of academic content covered in college.

Here’s the bottom line: Students need to take as much and as rigorous of a schedule of academic content as they can in high school to be prepared for college. I recommend four years of English, math, social sciences, and hard sciences. Additionally, many colleges require courses of foreign language and computer science (sometimes counted as a foreign language).

For years, I spoke to secondary school leaders about using data to improve instructional practices. The truth is parents and students can use data to make informed decisions too. Data informs us, and the drama of the college preparation dilemma plays out most dramatically when looking at math standardized test scores.

ACT reports out math scores by students’ self-reported course taking patterns. Here are math scores for the graduating class of 2016:

What does this information tell us? In general terms, the more math a student takes and the more rigorous the math courses are, the better the student does on the ACT math portion. That makes sense as The ACT is a curriculum-based achievement test. More math = more math knowledge = higher math scores.

Did you know that ACT also publishes math college readiness scores? The benchmark for predicted academic success in College Algebra, typically the first class that will count toward graduation and not considered a remedial class, is 22. That means a 50% chance of making a grade of B or a 75% chance of making a C.

Let’s look at the three largest population groups in math taking patterns reported by students:

Other comb of 4 or more year of Math – 33% of students take this pattern with an average math score of 23.6

Alg1, Alg2, Geo, & Other Adv Math – 18% of students take this pattern with an average math score of 19.3

Alg1, Alg2, Geo – 12% of student take this pattern with an average math score of 16.8.

Three years of math, starting with Algebra 1 in high school, doesn’t make a student ready for college algebra. Students taking this math sequence in high school could be placed in remedial math in college.

Students who are taking advanced math courses do better on the ACT math test. What are the advanced courses? Many students take Algebra 1 in grade 8 so they can take more advanced math in high school. Although I can’t be certain, I’m going to take a leap of faith and write that students may be checking other combinations of 4 years of math because they’re taking AP or IB math courses. Maybe their fourth year of math is labeled as Pre-Calculus at their high school.

Here’s the point I. If students are not taking four years of rigorous math in high school, and worse, if they are only taking three years of math in high school, neither they nor their parents should be surprised when the student is placed in remedial math in college.

Do the work in high school or do it in college. Do the remedial work in college and be prepared to pay the tuition for a class that doesn’t count toward graduation.

You do the math!        


If you want to learn about other ACT College Readiness Benchmarks, visit

Kira Janene Holt writes and blogs on college planning at Find her books on college planning at

PreACT: The Former PLAN is Back and Packaged as PreACT

PreACT: The Former PLAN is Back and Packaged as PreACT

No longer an assessment named PLAN, ACT, Inc. has a new PreACT assessment that has a similar feel to ACT’s previous grade 10 assessment, PLAN. Just like The ACT, the new PreACT tests in English, Math Reading, and Science. There’s not currently a writing section, just as there wasn’t on PLAN. Also like PLAN, it shares the same scaled scoring system with The ACT – scaled 1 – 36. I couldn’t find if PreACT only went to 32 as PLAN did or if the PreACT is also scaled 1-36. That would make more sense based on its name.


Unlike the PSAT, the PreACT can be administered on a day convenient to the school. This year’s window started 9/1/2016 and ends 6/1/2017. And here’s the scream – the cost is only $12/student as compared to $15 for this year’s PSAT.

Additionally the new PreACT has the same Interest Inventory that was administered with both EXPLORE (grade 8 discontinued Pre-preACT), PLAN, and ACT. How about that? Also, PreACT allows students to opt into ACT’s Educational Opportunity Service that allows colleges to buy students names. Same service PSAT has. Colleges like to buy names of students in grade 10 for marketing purposes. It can expand a student’s college search.


Whew! I almost can express how excited I am that this test is now available. I worked for ACT for eighteen years and was really upset when they discontinued PLAN in favor of ACT Aspire in 2014. That’s the year I left. And I was deeply troubled when management wanted us to convert customers from PLAN to ACT Aspire – a much more expensive test. So learning that new management has seen the wisdom in restoring a PreACT that delivers an experience similar to what students have when taking the actual ACT restores relief that good things are happening again with the organization.


There is a difference between PLAN and PreACT. PLAN had developed norming information for students took PLAN and grade 9. I didn’t find any information about norming data for PreACT at grade 9. That was helpful for schools that administered PLAN when other students took the PSAT at grades 10 and 11. It still wasn’t ideal since back then the norming data was still off by a semester, and I hope ACT will develop norming data for Fall of grade 9.

My hope is that more schools will learn about the PreACT. Ironically, in the WAY back, PLAN’s former name had been the PreACT+. They changed the name from PreACT+ to PLAN so the assessment was seen as a test for all students and not just students viewed as college bound. Now that all students are college bound, I guess the new PreACT is still all inclusive.

I can’t think of a better practice for the ACT than to take the PreACT. Way to go ACT!

Coalition for Access, Affordability, & Success: A New College Application’s in Town

Coalition for Access, Affordability, & Success: A New College Application’s in Town

wrong way right way image

Common applications for college aren’t new, but the Coalition’s Application is and it’s arrival is ushering in a new era of college applications. Colleges and universities must be members (that’s not new), but this membership focus is on sustained graduation rates, attendance affordability, and tools to help students navigate and store the materials the need for their applications.

From their member list site:

Members of the Coalition include a diverse group of public and private universities. Coalition schools provide substantial support to lower–resourced and underrepresented students, offer responsible student financial aid support, and demonstrate a commitment to student graduation. The Coalition has signed up over 90 schools so far, and more partners continue to join.

Who are members? If you visit their website, you’ll find the most competitive colleges in the nation on the list. Additionally, you’ll find flagship public universities.


The Coalition provides a Locker for students to upload and store materials they will need for their college applications. Students can open a Locker early in their high school career and add materials along their journey. There’s a collaboration space for teachers, counselors, and students to interact so that the student has help. There’s also a system in place so that counselors can invite and manage students as they navigate their college planning experience. What’s especially helpful are videos in place to help students, teachers, and counselors navigate their way through the system. Always helpful! Want to learn more? There’s even a FAQ site.

The Coalition has its own set of essay prompts for students that the participating institutions have approved. One goal of the Coalition’s common application was to build an application system that is easy and intuitive for students. If colleges require additional information, it’s listed on the member’s site as well as the application. From their FAQ section:  The platform tools—the Locker, a Collaboration Space, and an Application Portal—seek to recast the process of applying to college as the culmination of students’ development over the course of their high school careers. The Coalition tools have been designed to help students craft their individual narrative incrementally and well in advance of filing an application.

Truth is I’m all for systems that make the college application process easier for students. It’s stressful enough without experiencing technology issues. Students are supposed to be able to interact with the system via tablets and smartphones as well as using an old-fashioned computer. This is especially helpful to students who may not have Internet access at home.


As I was looking through their materials, what struck me was their commitment to leveling the college application field. They openly discuss fee waivers for college applications instead of it being something that students seek out from counselors – and requires knowledge that they can seek out waivers. The Coalition doesn’t limit college applications fee waivers to four as College Board started with the SAT.

While the Coalition doesn’t have a hard and fast definition for attendance affordability, they’re committed to seeing that colleges are providing financial aid awards that don’t burden the student with debt upon graduation. Translation – it’s not a scenario where a student is accepted to college but it’s going to COST big money.

I’m excited about what they are doing for students. How about you?

The New SAT Will Look More Like ACT

The New SAT Will Look More Like ACT


It’s coming spring 2016. What will the new SAT look like? Will it be more like the ACT? The subtitle to this post – how small the educational testing world really is.

Yes, it’s going to look more like The ACT; the new SAT will be more of achievement test and move further away from its historical aptitude orientation. My guess is it will look like new and improved ACT on steroids. It will look better and bolder than the ACT and the marketing for the new test should be magnificent! I’ll share the historical perspective shaping this opinion.

David Coleman is President of College Board. Prior to his assuming the role as the ninth president, he sat at the front of the table in designing Common Core Standards. Also at the table were many representatives from education, including from College Board and ACT.

Shortly after College Board hired David Coleman, ACT’s long-time president, Dr. Richard Ferguson, retired. At that point Dr. Cyndie Schmeiser was President of the Educational Division of ACT. She retired from ACT and a year later went to work for College Board. Sherri Miller was Assistant Vice-President of ACT Education Division and sat on Common Core committee with David Coleman. She left ACT and went to College Board. College Board even opened a testing office in Iowa City, ACT world headquarters, as they hired away more ACT staff.

Seems logical that if there’s a new SAT coming out and many of the long-time, upper management and test development people from ACT were hired by College Board, the new SAT will have somewhat of a similar feel to the ACT. If the new SAT looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s probably a duck.

• Answer choices now matching the number on ACT
• No penalty for guessing like the ACT
• Essay becoming optional like the ACT



Why will the new SAT be on steroids? As a former long-time ACT employee myself, I always marveled at how absolutely fabulous College Board was at marketing their programs. Michigan was the first ACT state-adoption to fall to College Board with a $1.5 M contract difference between the two tests. Which state contract will be next?

It’s a brave new world in the former college entrance dual-opoly world. Enter PARCC, Smarter Balance, and even TX STARR. Each test’s organizational entity will have an ability to set cut/placement scores for college readiness, and each college can use those tests for placement in freshmen courses. While I don’t think the ACT or SAT will go away, especially within private high schools, but I think their influence could be diminished. What do you think?

With Arizona State University offering a freshman year on-line with students only having to pay for classes they pass, the thought that postsecondary education will change more in the next ten years than in the last seventy seems more real than ever. What’s next?