New ACT program finds right tools to succeed

BY KATIE KUNTZ | JULY 18, 2012 6:30 AM

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After high school, young people face many obstacles and choices. A four-year university is the path for some, and trade-school, community college, or entry into the workforce are viable options for others.

Whatever path high-school graduates choose, they must rely on the skills they acquired during primary and secondary education. Therefore, the education system must be able to equip young people with useful skills so they may compete in this increasingly competitive and globalized U.S. economy.

ACT, a nationally renowned testing and learning company based in Iowa City, announced earlier this month that it will launch an unnamed program to increase the success of elementary education in helping young people prepare for their future.

ACT spokesman Ed Colby said the program will be more effective than others because it allows students to set their own goals and have personalized feedback to help them achieve their objectives.

"The system is really going to focus a lot on goals," he said. "Our research shows that if we instill this early and help them set goals, they may have a better chance to succeed in life."

Pamela Ries, the University of Iowa elementary methods practicum coordinator, said she agrees that having clear goals in the classroom increases student success.

"Teachers who are clear about the objectives of a lesson do a better job of helping their students reach those objectives," she said.

When students understand what they are trying to learn, she noted, they are more likely to reach goals they have set.

To perfect this project, ACT will team with Pearson, another test and learning company, which will help with the web design and technological aspects of the program. The next generation system uses the tools of modern technology as well as a wide variety of assessment methods to accurately and immediately help teachers and students understand learning goals and accomplishments.

Colby said the research ACT has conducted with secondary-school educators and students every three years for the last 50 years has illustrated for the company which skills are crucial for success.

Officials at ACT used this research to help design the Common Core Standards, which are a set of K-12 education standards adopted in 45 states. ACT's research has also concluded that many of the skills needed to succeed in college are also needed in the workplace.

"Having an understanding of math and language-arts skills are important everywhere," Colby said.

The ACT program will help to harbor more than just the Common Core Standards by measuring the effect of behavioral tendencies on success, he said. The next generation system will include self-reported assessments to monitor and report on such skills as motivation and social engagement.

"The psycho-social attributes affect student success as well," Colby said.

Those skill sets are crucial, he said, and can be nurtured in early education.

In the United States, about half of all college graduates were either unemployed or underemployed (working fewer hours or in a position for which they are overqualified), according to the Associated Press. These statistics further illustrate the importance of increasing the abilities of students so that they may compete — even without a college degree — and strengthen the economy for the next generation.

The ACT program has all the right tools to improve the education environment.

Education is a complicated issue in our society, but it is of vital importance. Young people must learn basic skills to survive in the global economy, whatever their plans for the future. Integrated, long-term studies that encourage students to pursue personal goals and provide them with tools to better understand and ultimately reach those goals is precisely what the education system needs.

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