[Skip to Content]
News Story

The Importance of Early Learning for College and Career Readiness

Posted on 05/22/2014

Career Readiness - OTAN
OTAN Photo by Randy Bayne

ACT is the nonprofit organization responsible for the ACT test External link opens in new window or tab —the college admissions and placement test taken by more than 1.6 million high school graduates every year.

In its focus on the effect of readiness on degree completion, ACT has investigated the relationship between readiness and early childhood learning. The results were published in its 2013 study College and Career Readiness: The Importance of Early Learning External link opens in new window or tab, which concludes that we as a nation "are far from achieving this goal" of universal readiness. 

This lack of readiness is more prevalent among economically disadvantaged students. In 2012, in states where all 11th-graders took the ACT assessment, only 45 percent of low-income students met the ACT College Readiness Benchmark in English. For reading, 30 percent met the benchmark, while in mathematics, 21 percent did, and in science, 13 percent did. 

The gaps between disadvantaged students and their more-advantaged counterparts "appear early in childhood," with large numbers of disadvantaged students entering kindergarten behind their more-advantaged peers. These findings pose a challenge for intervention models that assume that only approximately 5 percent of students need long-term remedial assistance and approximately 15 percent need shorter-term intervention. In situations where the "great majority of students are academically behind and need major assistance, the regular academic program must be upgraded to deliver a richer curriculum to all students." 

This intensive assistance is imperative because, without a good start, students will not succeed to their potential as they continue through school. Students need a good start because: (1) learning takes time, (2) learning is cumulative, (3) their interests often begin to develop in kindergarten and the early elementary grades, and (4) remediating them in middle and high school is difficult. A good start in reading and mathematics, a curriculum rich in content, and activities that foster good academic and social behaviors are key components of a strong early learning program, according to ACT. 

After discussing barriers to strengthening early learning, the report maintains that in the early grades it involves "not a flurry of disconnected initiatives, but a sustained, coherent, coordinated effort" to improve practices in the classroom. Implementing the components of an early learning program adequate to meeting the needs of disadvantaged students is arduous. It requires sustained district-wide effort to promote public opinion on behalf of its importance for the long term. Therefore, the report argues, school leaders and policymakers must strive to ensure that the public (1) recognizes the vital importance of early learning, (2) has a general knowledge of and is prepared to insist on the teaching of knowledge and skills that enhance early learning, (3) is aware of and does not support policies that are barriers to early learning, and (4) to the contrary, supports a robust "system" that focuses on sound early learning policies and practices.

Source: OCTAE Connection External link opens in new window or tab, May 4, 2014.

Download Free Adobe Reader External link opens in new window or tab.