At-Risk Students Who Fall Behind Struggle to Catch Up, Study Finds

Underachieving students in at-risk groups are less likely than other underachieving students to meet college-readiness standards four years later, according to a report released on Thursday by ACT.

The report describes the percentage of “far off track” students in at-risk categories (low-income, Hispanic, black, and special-education students, as well as those for whom English is a second language) who met college-readiness standards—based on their test scores in mathematics, reading, and science—four years after taking the examinations in Grades 4 and 8. The ACT researchers then compared the performance of students in the at-risk groups to that of other “far off track” students. (Students were deemed “far off track” by scoring more than a full standard deviation below the “on track” target ACT test scores for their respective grades in school.)

Fourth and eighth graders who qualified for free and reduced-price lunches were less likely to meet ACT standards in all three categories four years later than were students in both grades who did not qualify for the lunch programs. But low-income fourth graders who lagged behind were much more likely than low-income eighth graders to meet standards four years later. This was especially true in math, where 5 percent of fourth graders caught up four years later, yet only 1 percent of eighth graders did the same.

Black and Hispanic students who lagged behind their peers in Grade 4 were also more likely to meet standards than were black and Hispanic students in Grade 8. Nonetheless, other students (mostly white, according to the researchers) who fell behind their peers in Grades 4 and 8 were more likely than black and Hispanic students to meet college-readiness standards four years later in every subject, except for eighth-grade math. In that subject, the percentage of “far off track” Hispanic and other students who reached scores that indicated college readiness as high-school seniors was tied at 2 percent.

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