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Just how ready are kids to pursue STEM careers? ACT has new data

Nicole Villalpando

We’ve seen more emphasis on science, technology, engineering and math — STEM — in schools in recent years. Are America’s kids making any headway? What about girls versus boys? What about kids at an economic disadvantage? What about by race?

The folks behind the ACT test has been analyzing its test results for the last five years to track changes from year to year. It released its STEM Readiness report on Thursday. 

So what did it find?

  • About 48 percent of the kids who took the ACT in 2017 said they were interested in STEM careers. That really hasn’t changed.
  • Only 21 percent met the STEM benchmark, which was scoring a 26 in STEM, which is taken from the math and science scores.
  • Of the kids who were interested in STEM, only 0.43 percent were interested in teaching math and 0.17 were interested in teaching science.
  • Economics and race mattered. Kids were considered underserved learners if they were the first generation to go to college; were African American, American Indian/Alaska native, Hispanic/Latino, or native Hawaiian/other Pacific Islander; or had a parental income of less than $36,000 a year. Of the kids who had none of these disadvantages, 32 percent met the STEM benchmark.  If they had one disadvantage, they were 11 percent ready; two disadvantages, 5 percent ready; three disadvantages, 2 percent ready.
  • Gender mattered, too. 18 percent of girls met the STEM benchmark compared with 24 percent of boys. Of those that wanted to go into STEM careers, 24 percent of boys were ready compared with 22 percent of girls interested in STEM.
  • Where kids lived mattered, too. Of the kids in rural settings interested in STEM, only 17 percent met the benchmark, compared with 18 percent in towns, 33 percent in the suburbs and 27 percent in urban environments.
  • In Texas, only 19 percent of kids taking the 2017 text met the STEM benchmark.
  • In Texas, white students met it 31 percent of the time, 8 percent for Hispanic students, 6 percent black, 21 percent Native Americans, and 51 percent Pacific Islander.

What can we do?

ACT made these recommendations:

  • Make graduation requirements that focus more on STEM.
  • Pay teachers who teach math and science more.
  • Establish a student loan forgiveness program for teachers in STEM.
  • Provide equal access to STEM classes no matter where a student lives.