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By Sue Owen May 24, 2013

Bill Hammond says only 25 percent of Texas high-school graduates are career- or college-ready

As the Texas Senate approved a bill to reduce state-mandated exams in public schools, business leader Bill Hammond decried the measure.

Hammond, president of the Texas Association of Business, said, "We already graduate only 25 percent of students who are career- or college-ready. I don’t understand why many of our lawmakers are dead set on running away from strong requirements meant to increase that number and put in place standards that will do just the opposite," according to a May 6, 2013, Austin American-Statesman news story.

Are all but a quarter of Texas high school graduates unprepared for jobs or college?

Association spokesman Robert Wood emailed us an Aug. 22, 2012, report from ACT, a nonprofit organization that administers a nationwide college admissions and placement test, about Texas’ graduating class of 2012.

Among the 110,180 high schoolers in Texas who took the ACT that year -- accounting for 39 percent of the graduating class, according to the report -- 24 percent met the group’s "College Readiness Benchmarks" in all four subjects tested (English, reading, math and science), compared to 25 percent nationally.

Thirty-two percent of Texas test-takers hit none of the benchmarks -- or, put another way, 68 percent of the students hit at least one.

ACT’s report said its benchmarks indicate preparedness for careers as well as college.

Wood emailed us a March 21, 2013, Dallas Morning News interview with state higher education commissioner Raymund Paredes in which Paredes is quoted as saying ACT data show 25 percent are college-ready "across the board."

The benchmarks, according to an ACT press release accompanying the report, are "based on actual grades earned in college by ACT-tested students." ACT calculates, for each subject, the minimum ACT score that indicates a student has a 75 percent chance of earning a C or a 50 percent chance of earning a B in a first-year college course in that subject, the release said.

Via email, ACT spokesman Ed Colby noted that Hammond was citing the percentage of Texas graduates who missed the benchmarks in four subjects.

Colby offered a less stringent measure. In ACT’s view, he said, students who hit three out of four benchmarks "still have a good chance of succeeding in college." So a student could miss one of the benchmarks without being considered by ACT "at risk of not succeeding in college and career," he said.

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"Last year, 40 percent of ACT-tested graduates nationally (39 percent in Texas) met at least three of our four benchmarks," Colby said. "We would argue that is a fairer figure to quote when talking about overall college and career readiness, but that is open to interpretation."

Texas’ ACT benchmark results have stayed relatively steady in recent years, rising or falling by no more than four percentage points from 2008 through 2012, according to ACT. As in 2012, for instance, 24 percent of Texas’ 2011 graduates taking the ACT met all four subject-matter benchmarks and 39 percent met three or more.

The College Board, a nonprofit organization that administers the SAT college admissions tests, also sets a benchmark for "college and career readiness": a score of 1550, which the board’s website says "is associated with a 65 percent probability of obtaining a first year (grade point average) of a B- or higher."

Texas Education Agency spokeswoman DeEtta Culbertson emailed us College Board reports for Texas showing that among students who took the SAT tests, 33 percent in the class of 2011 and 32 percent in the class of 2012 hit the benchmark. Like the ACT, SAT tests are taken not by all high school graduates but typically by students who already intend to enroll in college; 54 percent of Texas’ 2011 grads and 58 percent of 2012 grads took SATs.

The state agency cites its own indicator of how well high-school graduates are prepared for college. Spokeswoman Debbie Ratcliffe told us by email, "Based on the state 2012 Academic Excellence Indicator System report, 52 percent of the class of 2011 graduates met the college-ready criteria in both ELA (English language arts) and mathematics."

Time for some unpacking: In that report, Ratcliffe said, students were considered "college-ready" if they met or exceeded college criteria on one or more of three standardized tests: the ACT, the SAT or the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills exit-level test. Specifically, Ratcliffe said, the 52 percent figure represents graduates who made or exceeded certain English and math scores on the TAKS, SAT or ACT.

So three varied ways of calculating suggest that 32 percent, 39 percent and 52 percent of students in recent years were prepared for college.

By telephone, Hammond agreed there are other ways of measuring college readiness. Even ACT’s own data "is saying two different things," he said, referring to the four-part ACT measurement he initially cited and the three-of-four approach offered to us by the ACT spokesman.

Hammond offered for perspective a statistic from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board indicating that about 30 percent of Texas high school graduates who went straight into a Texas college or university in fall 2011 needed catch-up classes in math, reading or writing.

Our ruling

Hammond said only 25 percent of Texas high school graduates are college- or career-ready.

While there is a method behind his conclusion, even the purveyor of that figure, ACT, says it prefers a lower threshold for gauging whether students are college- or career-ready. Besides, there are at least two other indicators, one from the company that runs the SAT and the other from the state of Texas, suggesting that up to half of the state’s high-school graduates are ready for college.

Hammond’s claim fails to reflect the variety of college-readiness indicators. We rate it Mostly False.

Our Sources

Texas Association of Business press release, "Statement by Bill Hammond on Senate passage of HB 5," May 6, 2013

Austin American-Statesman news story, "Major testing measure clears Texas Senate," May 6, 2013

Telephone interviews with Bill Hammond, president of Texas Association of Business, May 21-22, 2013

Email interviews, excerpted, with Robert Wood, communications director of Texas Association of Business,  May 14-22, 2013

Dallas Morning News opinion column, "Why Texas legislators are about to make a big mistake,"  March 21, 2013

ACT press release, College & Career Readiness Improving Among U.S. High School Graduates," Aug. 17, 2011

ACT report, "The Condition of College & Career Readiness 2011 -- Texas," Aug. 17, 2011

ACT press release, "60 Percent of 2012 High School Graduates At Risk of Not Succeeding in College and Career," Aug. 22 2012

ACT report, "The Condition of College & Career Readiness 2012 -- Texas," Aug. 22, 2012

Email interviews, excerpted, with Ed Colby, director of public relations, ACT, May 14-21, 2013

Email interviews with DeEtta Culbertson, information specialist, Texas Education Agency, May 21, 2013

Email interviews, excerpted, with Debbie Ratcliffe, Texas Education Agency communications director, May 14, 2013

College Board report, "State of College and Career Readiness … Summary for Texas" for 2011, received May 21, 2013

College Board report, "State of College and Career Readiness … Summary for Texas" for 2012, received May 21, 2013

Texas Education Agency, Academic Excellence Indicator System "2011-12 State Performance Report," accessed May 23, 2013

Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board report, "Annual Texas Success Initiative (TSI) Report of Student Readiness Status: 2010-2011 High School Graduates Enrolled in Texas Public Higher Education in Fall 2011 Statewide Summary Report," accessed May 23, 2013

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Bill Hammond says only 25 percent of Texas high-school graduates are career- or college-ready

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