New Report: Students’ ACT Scores Continue to Decline in Math

According to the ACT Condition of College and Career Readiness 2018 Report, high school students’ math achievement is faltering, based on the ACT test scores of last year’s graduates. In fact, math scores have been declining since 2012 and have now hit a 20-year-low.

Only 40 percent of the students tested scored at or above the “ACT College Readiness Benchmark in math,” which means they are not ready for their first year in a college algebra class.

“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 U.S. and global job market,” ACT CEO Marten Roorda notes in the press 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.”

Why Are Scores Declining?

Experts believe that there are multiple reasons behind the worsening math skills. One possible reason is the way that math is currently taught in public schools. In April of 2018, the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) released a report called “Create Positive Change for High School Mathematics” suggesting improvements to math classes in high schools across the United States. One of the problems, according to the report, is that too many subjects are taught and at too shallow a level. Instead, the NCTM recommended transforming high school math classes so they are leaner, focusing on far fewer topics, but going more in-depth on each one. This will allow students to fully  grasp concepts and apply them in a variety of situations, rather than having a superficial understanding of concepts and what they mean. The NCTM also recommended honing in on the most essential concepts in math, so that students learn the skills they will actually need to use in their future, rather than what has simply been historically taught.

Warnings that Students May Not Be College-Ready

Parents should watch for signs that a student is performing below the expected level in any subject, including math, so that they can intervene early. Some signs that students may need extra help in math include:

  • Bad grades in math subjects on a report card
  • Poor performance on pre-college standardized tests, like the PSAT or the PreACT
  • Homework that requires a lot of calculator usage and includes very few word problems
  • Conversations with the math teacher reveal that your child is re-learning concepts from other math classes or is in remedial math in high school

What Parents Can Do to Help Students Become College- or Career-Ready

Every parent wants their child to do well on standardized tests like the ACT, and then succeed in college or a career. Parents should pay attention to their child’s homework and make sure it is challenging. Parents who are not well-versed in math should make sure that homework has many word problems and requires a lot of manipulation. If homework appears too easy or too calculator-heavy, consider getting students a math tutor who might better prepare them for college-level math. Students might also benefit from a test-specific tutor who can determine if the student is adequately prepared, then help them get ready if not. It can also be helpful to talk directly to math teachers to make sure the student is performing well in class and  the class is covering the necessary skills and subjects that will appear on standardized tests.

“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,” Roorda notes in the report.

If you think your student is not learning math or any other subjects to your satisfaction, consider another alternative like an online virtual school. Online schools allow your student a more personalized learning environment with an engaging curriculum and hands-on materials. And as a Learning Coach, you can be more involved in ensuring your child receives an education that is right for them and prepares them for the future, whether it be college or career. K12 also offers Destination Career Academies in some states to further prepare students for their futures. Look for a K12-powered school in your state.

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