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Eighth graders at risk

Vermont students who aren't on track for college and career readiness by eighth grade are unlikely to attain that level of readiness by high school graduation, according to "The Forgotten Middle," a new research report by ACT, Inc.

The findings suggest the level of academic achievement that Vermont students attain by eighth grade has a bigger impact on whether they are ready for college and career by the time they graduate than any single factor examined, including courses taken, grades earned in high school and demographic characteristics such as gender, race, and household income.

The findings suggest that few Vermont eighth-graders are currently on target to be ready for college-level work by the time they graduate from high school.

Only 16 percent of the recent high school graduates studied in ACT's research had met or surpassed the organization's College Readiness Benchmarks in all four subject areas - English, math, reading, and science - on EXPLORE, the organization's eighth grade assessment of academic skills.

Students who meet those benchmarks are on target to be college-ready by the time they graduate from high school. College readiness is defined by ACT as having a high likelihood of earning a "C" or higher in first year college courses in each subject area.

Conversely, the report suggests, being on target for college and career readiness by eighth grade puts students on a trajectory for success in high school and beyond. Among three groups of eighth grade students studied - those who were on target, those who just missed being on target, and those who were more substantially off target - only those who were on target in eighth grade were ultimately ready for college and career by their junior or senior year of high school.

The need to build the foundation for college and career readiness well before high school is a topic that has at times been overshadowed on a crowded education reform agenda.

ACT's report suggests that the impact of this problem extends beyond college preparation to the workforce and the economy.

ACT's report, "The Forgotten Middle," is available for viewing and free downloading on ACT's website at www.act.org/research

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