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Successful STEM Careers in the Future Require Education Improvements Today

Next year we’ll mark the 50th anniversary of the moon landing. It remains an awe-inspiring achievement and it wouldn’t have been possible without America’s education system teaching and training the scientists, mathematicians, and astronauts who made it happen.

Yet, five decades later, we rightfully have reason to wonder if we’re doing all we can to help educators teach and students learn STEM.

States and districts should provide plentiful professional development opportunities so that teachers may improve their craft and increase their positive impact. And the teaching profession must be elevated, with higher salaries and greater levels of respect, to attract talented, new instructors to the occupation.

Troubling scores

We are motivated to suggest these recommendations because what we see in the latest ACT Test results is troubling.

The average national STEM score (a combination of the ACT math and science scores) was 20.9 in 2018, down from 21.1 in 2017. In fact, students’ average score on the ACT math test dropped to its lowest level in more than 20 years.

Science remains the subject area in which students are least likely to be prepared for college coursework. Readiness in math, suggesting that students are ready to succeed in a first-year college algebra class, fell to its lowest mark in 14 years; only 40 percent of 2018 graduates met the math benchmark.

ACT research suggests that if students are not on target for college and career readiness by the time they reach middle school, it may be too late for them to become ready by the time they graduate from high school.

What students need

Assessing what students have learned and implementing strategies to help them improve their skills and get on target, must begin in elementary school. Early assessment and intervention are critical to improving education outcomes.

All students should be given the opportunity to reach their potential. But many underserved students face disparities compared to other students in their access to rigorous college-preparatory curricula, high-quality educators, and support services that help create the foundation necessary for every child to succeed after high school.

In particular, students whose parents did not attend college often lack the resources, information, and support from schools, family members, and peers that they need to prepare for success. These and other similar inequities must be resolved for true growth in readiness to occur across the board.

We also know that the digital divide, the gap between students who lack access to technology and those students who have it, is compounding equity problems within United States schools. Our research found that underserved students with access to only one electronic device in their home — oftentimes only a cell phone — may face challenges that don’t exist for their peers in terms of completing schoolwork.

In the future, adventures to Mars await us. We also have real scientific discoveries to explore on Earth. We know American students are ready for the challenge and we must ensure they are ready to succeed.

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