The College Board's 2013 SAT Report on College & Career Readiness released recently disclosed that only 43 percent of SAT takers in the class of 2013 met the SAT College and Career Readiness Benchmark.
The SAT Benchmark score of 1550 (out of a possible 2400) is associated with a 65 percent probability that a student obtaining that score will have a first-year college GPA of B- or higher, which in turn is associated with a high likelihood of college success.
The SAT is one of two main college entrance exams used in the admission process at nearly all four-year colleges and universities in the United States.
Earlier this year, ACT, the other major admissions testing group, concluded in its annual study that only 26 percent of all ACT-tested high school graduates met ACTs College Readiness Benchmarks in English, math, reading and science.
The College Board has determined over the years that students who meet the SAT College and Career Readiness Benchmark are more likely to enroll in a four-year college, more likely to earn a higher first-year GPA, and more likely to persist beyond the first year of college and complete their degree.
For example, 54 percent of students who meet the SAT College and Career Benchmark earn a bachelor's degree within four years, compared to only 27 percent of those who do not meet the SAT Benchmark.
For some minority groups, the college readiness picture is even more bleak. Only 15.6 percent of African American and 23.5 percent of Hispanic SAT takers met or exceeded the SAT Benchmark. Five percent of African-American and 14 percent of Hispanic-American students met the more stringent ACT benchmarks.
What is perhaps more disturbing than the news that 57 percent (SAT) or 74 percent (ACT) of our nation's high school graduates taking college admissions tests are not really ready for college, is that our students' level of preparedness appears to be getting worse.
Since 1972, the first year from which the College Board lists comparable SAT results, overall scores have declined. In 1972, students averaged a 1039 in reading and math (1600 possible). Among SAT test-takers this year, the mean score combined on those two sections was 1014. In 2006, the College Board introduced a third section to the test -- writing. Students averaged 488 on the writing section this year, a drop of nine points since 2006.
Unfortunately, what should set off panic alarms among people is tempered by "the kids are all right" philosophy propounded by some of the nation's top educational theorists.
Diane Ravitch, who is an educational policy analyst and a research professor at New York University and was previously a U.S. assistant eecretary of education, writes in her new book, "Reign of Error":
"Public education is not broken," ... "It is not failing or declining." Ravitch and others believe that American students are doing better than ever despite evidence to the contrary, specifically evidence that our students are behind their international peers.
The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has conducted an international study of 15-year-olds' competencies in the key subjects: reading, mathematics and science since 1997. In that study's most recently reported results -- the 2009 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) -- U.S. students ranked average in reading and science, and below average in math.
Among the 34 OECD countries, the United States was 14th in reading, 17th in science, and 25th in mathematics.
We have ample evidence that our high school graduates are generally not ready for college and that our high schools are not adequately preparing our students to compete effectively with students around the world. But until we recognize that our schools are in trouble and resolve to do something about it, those schools will continue to churn out a mediocre product.
Patrick Mattimore was a high school teacher in the Bay Area for many years and is an adjunct professor of law in the Temple University/Tsinghua University LLM program in Beijing, China.