NEW YORK, NY — A growing percentage of America’s high school graduates who take the ACT exam aren’t prepared for college courses, and that’s particularly evident in math, where scores dropped to the lowest levels since 2004. ACT, one of two major tests used to determine a student’s readiness for college, published its annual score report Wednesday.
The national average composite score for this year’s graduating class fell to 20.8 out of 36 points from 21.0 last year. Furthermore, the percentage of test-takers nationwide who were prepared to take a first-year college algebra course fell to 40 percent, down from 41 percent last year and 46 percent in 2012.
Readiness in English has also been trending downward over the past several years, falling 4 percentage points from 2015 to 60 percent this year. That’s the lowest level since the benchmarks were first introduced, ACT said. Science and reading also saw their scores fall 1 percentage point over the last year to 46 percent and 36 percent, respectively. Science remains the subject area in which students are least likely to be prepared for college coursework.
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Nevada, a state where every graduate takes the test, had lowest average composite score in 2018 at 17.7. Connecticut had the highest average score at 25.6, though that number isn’t necessarily reflective of the state as a whole because only a quarter of the students chose to take the test.
ACT CEO Marten Roorda called the math scores a “red flag” given where the world is headed with tech jobs and urged America take action to ensure the next generation isn’t left behind.
“The negative trend in math readiness is a red flag for our country, given the growing importance of math and science skills in the increasingly tech-driven US and global job market,” Roorda said in a release. “It is vital that we turn this trend around for the next generation and make sure students are learning the math skills they need for success in college and career.”
Roorda told The Wall Street Journal there’s a “high risk” the U.S. economy comes to a slowdown, or worse — a standstill. He’s particularly worried about the math scores.
“The economy needs more students with STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education, and good math skills are vital to the STEM orientation,” he told the newspaper.
Nearly 2 million high school graduates this year took the ACT test, or 55 percent of the national graduating class. A growing number of them are finding themselves at the bottom of the preparedness scale, ACT said. Thirty-five percent of graduates didn’t meet a single benchmark for college readiness, up from 31 percent in 2014 and 33 percent last year.
The organization found that white and Asian-American children continue to outperform black and Hispanic students, with Asian-American students being the best prepared group. Their average composite score actually increased in 2018 while scores fell for all other racial and ethnic groups.
Roorda said his organization is committed to researching ways to improve college readiness. That starts with new ideas.
“Innovation is important in improving educational outcomes,” said Roorda. “One big step we can take is to make sure that our learning resources are designed in a way that is more personalized and better fits this generation’s way of consuming information.”
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