By Matt Lukshaitis

Pine River Area Schools Superintendent

One of our current phrases in education today is, “college and career ready.” We use this terminology as a result of ACT testing. The ACT folks will tell you that a college and career ready cut score in any particular year means, that in that state, a certain score should reflect a 50 percent or better chance of a student earning a “B” or better in the freshman level course in that area. In English, for example, the ACT benchmark score is an 18. If a high school student cuts an 18 or better on the ACT English test, he or she should expect a 50 percent or higher chance at earning a “B” or higher in English 101. In math, the benchmark is 22; in reading, 22; in science, 23. College and career readiness now, somehow, has morphed into an interpretation that a student has to meet these benchmarks in all four of these areas to qualify as ready for post-secondary instruction or a career following high school.

But these are not typical scores. Rarer still is the student who meets these minimums in all four areas. In Michigan, 21 percent of all students tested in 2013 and 2014 were deemed college and career ready in all four areas.

The label is confusing. Using this type of language seems to beg the reader or receiver of this information to believe that failure to achieve these minimum scores in all four areas is condemning. The results over the years, of watching kids test, demonstrates to me this is simply not true. We should be focusing on which areas we do well on in order to guide students toward a career or college, not focusing on an assumed impossibility to graduate from college because of a lesser score in an area or two. Most students tend to do better on either the sciences (math and science) or the humanities (English and reading) when taking college entrance exams. Writers of standardized tests may not want us to talk about test results in this manner, but I would contend that therein lies the problem. There are no bad tests; there are, however, poor uses of data.

The emphasis on testing better, on increasing student achievement scores or facing consequences is contrary to positive principles of motivation. We know that success breeds success, yet standardized tests seem to promote fear of reprisals. There is no place in public education for this type of fear. At Pine River, we are here to help all kids succeed, not just students on track in all four areas of the ACT to earn a “B” or better as college freshmen. When I hear what sounds like an ultimatum from the Michigan Department of Education concerning test scores, I get excited and protective of my district.

Educators can use data to help students prepare for college or a career after high school. What we should not do is overreact to standardize testing. We should not run from testing, but we should plan a strategy to best use test scores.

At Pine River, we too use the college and career ready terminology. When we say this at PRAS, we are thinking about kids and life after high school. Not test scores. We are here to help kids read, listen, compute, write and speak. We are here to help them emotionally, intellectually, physically and socially. At the end of the day, we want to produce citizens who are ready for life after high school, not the next standardized test. I have some news for the test writers: there is no bigger or more important test than life itself. As a father and an educator, I think we should pay attention to labels like college and career ready a little bit less, and pay attention to our kids and who they are a little bit more.