Prepping for the ACT exam (copy)

Papillion-La Vista High School English teacher Lori Boudreau spends part of class sharpening 11th graders’ grammar skills in preparation for the ACT. The students in Boudreau’s Honors American Literature class are, from left, Sheridan Keeler, Jenna Hoelscher, Joe McGuire and Rachel Diehm.

College preparedness scores provide a likely indicator of how well a young person will meet the increasing skill demands of the 21st century economy. The latest ACT scores for such preparedness show Nebraska’s need to strengthen its help for low-income and minority students.

The ACT scores measured college readiness in reading, English, math and science. In Nebraska, 42% of white test-takers and 38% of Asians met three or all four ACT college readiness benchmarks, The World-Herald’s Joe Dejka reports. Scores were lower for other Nebraska groups: 9% of black students, 9% of American Indians, 14% of Hispanics and 19% of Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islanders.

These findings show that more work is needed to help students of all backgrounds, of course. But the lower scores for low-income and minority students warrant particular focus. Nebraska is one of 15 states that test all public school students.

Nebraska’s demographics are changing, and our educational institutions must be ready to address the needs of a diverse student body. During 2000-10, minority groups contributed more than 50% of the population growth in 16 Nebraska counties, or two-thirds of all Nebraska counties that experienced population gains. Many Nebraska school districts, urban and rural, are home to increasingly diverse student populations. In Omaha Public Schools, some 119 languages are spoken in the homes of district students.

Nebraska’s need to bolster its instructional effectiveness for minority students is well known to educators and early childhood specialists, of course. And the challenge is complex. Parents and guardians play a vital role in the home. The needed tools outside the home cover a broad gamut. They include early childhood supports, teaching training and instructional methods at all school levels and encouragement for students to take appropriate courses in preparation.

The point isn’t that everyone should attend a traditional four-year university; students should pursue the type of postsecondary education appropriate for their particular needs and interests. The central goal is to maximize the lifelong opportunities for each student.

A 2017 report, for example, found that while 52.8% of white Nebraskans, ages 25 to 44, had an associate degree or higher, only 26.5% of minority residents did in that age range. Only one other state had a larger disparity between whites and minorities than did Nebraska.

Nebraska needs to do better. Our state should strive harder so that rewarding employment opportunities are available for all Nebraskans, regardless of background.

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