- ACT scores have hit their lowest marks in 20 years, wrote Education Week, citing a report from the nonprofit. On a scale of 1-36, the 2018 graduating class earned an average math score of 20.5 as compared to 20.9 in 1998, while scores from students representing all racial and ethnic groups dropped, except for those of Asian-Americans.
- The ACT has also seen fewer students sign up to take the test, which could partially result from states including Colorado and Illinois creating contracts with the College Board to offer students the SAT instead of the ACT.
- These results are a cause of criticism of the way math is taught in schools, with the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics believing math instruction needs to go deeper and beyond standards and assessments.
The drop in ACT math scores could signal a problem for educators, particularly as demand for STEM skills post-graduation continues to increase. The drop is unfortunately part of a trend: Just 40% of 4th graders scored as proficient in math in the 2017-2018 school year.
Administrators and curriculum designers may need to rethink how math is being taught from the first day students arrive at school until the day they leave. Certainly, teachers who express anxiety about their own math skills can impact the way students learn and how they absorb lessons. This can do more than leave a bad association in a child’s mind when they think about math — it can also cause them to see themselves as not a “math person."
Finding ways to make math more fun may be helpful, according to a paper published by Stanford University's youcubed center. Students are often forced to learn math through memorization techniques, an effort to hit standards and raise scores. Instead, they should be taught to develop a “math sense,” or a “learning of math facts along with deep understanding of numbers and the ways they relate to each other,” the paper's authors wrote.
Re-educating teachers by offering professional development opportunities, on one hand, is another route administrators can take to support stronger math education in schools. The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) launched a new scholarship to help high school math educators with this goal, offering $3,000 to those looking to broaden their “knowledge and competence in teaching mathematics and making an impact on their students' learning,” according to the council.