Can a Test Capture ‘College and Career Readiness’ in Early Grades?

By Lesli A. Maxwell — July 13, 2012 2 min read
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ACT Inc., maker of the well-known college admissions exam, announced earlier this month that it is working to create a new series of tests to measure how students—as young as 5—are acquiring the skills and knowledge they need to be ready for college and careers.

According to ACT, the tests will become the “first digital, longitudinal assessment system” to measure student outcomes across grade levels. The tests will aim to look at performance both inside and outside the classroom, meaning that academic skills, as well as things such as behavior and outside interests, will be assessed. The information that the assessments provide, says ACT, will help teachers tailor, in real time, the instructional strategies and supports they use to help kids continually build the academic and social skills they need to succeed.

Jon Erickson, the president of ACT’s education division, says the assessments are a response to the “college and career skills gap issue,” and will be aligned to the common core standards. The first iteration of the assessments will span grades 3-12, but will, in a later version, include kindergarten through second grade, he said.

I wanted to understand how a test can detect whether a 5-year-old kindergartner or a 9-year-old 3rd grader is “on track” to being a success in higher education or a career. And whether it’s even appropriate to try.

Erickson said the assessments, in the early grades, will be more of an “exploration or awareness” of the skills that are necessary for success in college and the workplace, and that test items to measure those things would be “dialed down to a grade-appropriate set of skills.” As for sizing up “college readiness” at that early stage, Erickson said the assessment would measure “foundational” skills in reading and math that are the important building blocks for “longer-term, higher order skills.”

“We are not looking to label anybody,” Erickson said, adding that it was “admittedly absurd to think that anybody is going to identify a student’s career path” as early as kindergarten.

I put the same questions about the appropriateness of trying to measure a young child’s readiness for higher education and careers to one of the most prominent scholars on early childhood development and the assessment of young children.

“It almost just seems unreasonable to me,” said Sam Meisels, the president of the Chicago-based Erikson Institute, a graduate school focused exclusively on early childhood development. “What all of us in early childhood keep close to our hearts is the fact that children will change due to environments and interactions they have over time. Kids aren’t set on a path that’s immutable from birth or even from kindergarten onward, and thank goodness that’s the case.”

Now, it’s your turn to weigh in.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Early Years blog.