King: ACT a useful indicator, but not sole predictor, of college success

At issue | Jan. 31 commentary by Skip Kifer, "ACT not key measure of college readiness"

The recently published opinion piece responds to an op-ed I wrote urging parents to challenge their children to take rigorous college-preparatory courses, and to look beyond just grade-point averages when determining whether their children are ready for college.

Please allow me to clarify that Kentucky's colleges and universities do not rely exclusively on the ACT to make college admission or placement judgments, nor does the Council on Postsecondary Education encourage such determinations.

A student's entire record, including GPA, extracurricular activities, and other placement exams form a portfolio that allows campuses to make informed decisions on admission and placement.

The ACT serves as an important element in this consideration, but more importantly, it serves as an alarm bell in the student's secondary experience about preparation for life after high school.

It warns of the need to take a deeper look at a student's college readiness if the scores fall below certain thresholds, but it is not the sole determinant when placing students in developmental courses.

While we know the ACT is not a perfect predictor of college performance, it provides a very good indicator of how well students will perform in certain entry-level courses.

ACT Inc. has, for at least 40 years, tracked students who take their exams into their college careers, and has been able to generally correlate how students at each scoring level perform in actual college-credit courses in the related subjects.

Far from arbitrary cutoff scores, there is a great deal of data from tens of millions of ACT score results upon which policy makers in Kentucky rely to set the scores used to indicate college readiness in key entry-level courses.

As a result of legislation passed several years ago, the ACT is taken by every public high school student in Kentucky, and it provides the state's colleges and universities with a reliable, highly regarded, common basis of comparison and analysis. The content and rigor of high school courses carrying the same title vary widely.

Students from different districts (or even those attending different high schools within the same district), all earning the same grade in the same course, may in fact have very different levels of understanding and knowledge.

The ACT gives us an opportunity to address these disparities and minimize the risk that students are put into college classes they are not ready to take.

Equally important, the ACT and its sister tests, EXPLORE (taken by all students in the 8th grade) and PLAN (taken by all students in 10th grade), give parents, teachers and students a clearer sense of whether students are on track to graduate from high school with the reading, English, and mathematical skills and knowledge necessary to succeed in entry-level college courses.

Our common goal is to help all students graduate from high school prepared to learn at high levels in the next phase of their lives, whether that be the workforce, a community or technical college, or a four-year university.

Related stories from Lexington Herald Leader