I have long proposed the concept of “Backwards Mapping”—or starting with a future goal and working backwards. For example, students with a future career goal should be working backwards by identifying the level of education and type of training needed to pursue such a goal, students who may not have a particular career goal, but who have a goal of attending college should be identifying what will be required to be admitted to the type of college they are interested in attending (i.e., highly competitive, competitive, traditional, or open enrollment), what will be required to graduate from high school, what will be required in middle school to gain access to the level of high school course work that will best prepare students for college, and the type of elementary school experiences that will best assist a student in identifying the unique gifts and talents that may one day pave the way to a college scholarship.
Most elementary and middle school students with a goal of attending college will have to take either the SAT or ACT. I have always thought it odd, how little school districts have prepared such college-bound students for performing successfully on the SAT or ACT. In 2010, for all high school seniors taking the ACT (who were planning to go to college), only:
- 66 percent of students were considered college-ready in English
- 52 percent of students were considered college-ready in Reading
- 43 percent of students were considered college-ready in Mathematics
- 29 percent of students were considered college-ready in Science
There were also huge differences in the level of college readiness by race, with no racial group having over 50 percent of students being considered as college-ready:
- Only 39 percent of Asian students demonstrated college-readiness in all subject areas
- Only 30 percent of White students demonstrated college-readiness in all subject areas
- Only 12 percent of Native American students demonstrated college-readiness in all subject areas
- Only 11 percent of Hispanic students demonstrated college-readiness in all subject areas
- Only 4 percent of Black students (that is only 4 out of every 100 high school seniors) demonstrated college-readiness in all subject areas
The type of thinking, reasoning, writing, and vocabulary needed to perform successfully on the SAT and ACT should be part of every college-bound student’s elementary-through-high school growth and development. Recently, the state of North Carolina announced that it is considering requiring all 11th-graders to take the ACT. However, we do not need for all 11th-graders to take the ACT—we already know how few 11th-graders are college ready. We need to engage more elementary and middle school students in the type of learning that will ensure, that, as 11th-graders, they will be prepared to perform well on the ACT and SAT, because we have done a good job preparing them for college.
If you are the parent of an elementary and middle school student, then you should get copies of the ACT and SAT sample tests. Ensure that your child is being introduced to the type of problem solving, language, vocabulary, and core content necessary to perform well on either the SAT or ACT. Compare what your child is expected to know on the SAT and ACT with what he or she is learning in school. As more schools focus almost exclusively on preparing your child for grade-level and standardized tests, your child may be short changed when it comes to developing the broad range of critical thinking and reasoning skills that he or she will have to draw upon as an 11th-grader taking the SAT or ACT, and, as a college freshman preparing for the next phase of his or her academic development.