In recent years educators and policymakers have set a goal that students graduate from high school ready for college and careers. However, as a nation we are far from achieving this goal, particularly for low-income and minority students. For example, in states where all eleventh-graders take the ACT®, only 27 percent of low-income students in 2010 met the ACT College Readiness Benchmark in reading, with 16 percent meeting the Benchmark in mathematics, and 11 percent meeting the Benchmark in science.
Efforts to improve students’ academic preparation have often been directed at the high-school level, although for many students, gaps in academic preparation begin much earlier. Large numbers of disadvantaged students enter kindergarten behind in early reading and mathematics skills, oral language development, vocabulary, and general knowledge. These gaps are
likely to widen over time because of the “Matthew effects,” whereby those who start out behind are at a relative disadvantage in acquiring new knowledge.