“Educators and policymakers have set a goal that all students graduate from high school ready for college and careers. As a nation, however, we are falling short of achieving this goal, particularly for students from at-risk groups. In 2013, in states with the highest percentages of students taking the ACT® college readiness assessment, 41% of students from the two lowest family income categories met ACT College Readiness Benchmarks in English, 19% in mathematics, 23% in reading, and 17% in science.A substantial body of research supports the idea that the path to college and career readiness begins well before middle and high school. Gaps in vocabulary development begin in very early childhood. Large numbers of disadvantaged students enter kindergarten behind in early reading and mathematics skills, oral language development, vocabulary, and general knowledge.4 In turn, early reading and mathematics skills and general knowledge predict student success in the later grades. 5 Learning gaps are likely to widen over time because of “Matthew effects,” whereby those who start out ahead are at a relative advantage in acquiring new knowledge. As a result of these effects, many middle and high schools inherit large numbers of students who are academically far off track—well below the level that predicts they are likely to graduate college and career ready. This is especially true for schools serving at-risk student populations. Substantial resources and energy have been invested into increasing the capacity of high schools to address the needs of those students. But if it’s difficult for middle and high schools to close these students’ academic preparation gaps despite the extra attention, perhaps more should be invested in narrowing the gaps earlier.”
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