The Freshman Foul: Poor ACT Scores

It's the annual mid-August ritual for college students: moving into their dorms. But tests suggest an alarming number of high school graduates are arriving unprepared for college level class work, reports CBS News national correspondent Jim Axelrod.

"I have always had a hard time with math and science those are my two hardest subjects," Jeanette Settembre, a sophomore at Manhattan College, told CBS News. " I don't feel like I was prepared in those two subjects for when I went to college."

Those are two of four subjects measured by the ACT - a test taken mainly in the Midwest and the South that measures if students know enough to pass first year college courses.

Some 28 percent were unprepared to pass even one of the subjects - math, reading, English and science -- ACT measures.

"We've got a lot of work to do -- especially in math and science," said Cyndie Schmeiser, ACT's Education Division president and chief operating officer.

A lot. One recent study concluded high school students in 23 countries were outperforming U.S. students in math. Students in 16 countries were outperforming U.S. students in science. And nine countries did better in literacy.

While some reformers encourage students to take harder courses in high school, others say the solution lies in a more comprehensive overhaul.

"We can't have a school day that's six hours. We can't have a school year that's 180 days," said Mark Schneider, vice president for New Education Initiatives, American Institutes for Research.

"We need longer school days, we need a longer school year, in part because the time on task is one of the things that drives student success. Compared to our peer groups and our competitors, both our school day and our school year are far too short."

Once they get to college the news is no more encouraging: 30 percent of students who start college in year one don't come back for year two.

  • Jim Axelrod

    Jim Axelrod is the senior national correspondent for CBS News, reporting for "CBS This Morning," the "CBS Evening News," "CBS Sunday Morning," and other CBS News broadcasts.