The newest batch of ACT scores shows troubling long-term declines in performance, with students’ math achievement reaching a 20-year low, according to results released Wednesday.
The average math score for the graduating class of 2018 was 20.5, marking a steady decline from 20.9 five years ago, and virtually no progress since 1998, when it was 20.6. Each of the four sections of the college-entrance exam is graded on a 36-point scale.
“We’re at a very dangerous point. And if we do nothing, it will keep on declining,” ACT’s chief executive officer, Marten Roorda, said in an interview.
The pattern in math scores is particularly worrisome at a time when strong math skills are important for the science, engineering, and technology jobs that play powerful roles in the U.S. economy, he said.
Matt Larson, the immediate past president of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, said the math scores “are extremely disappointing, but not entirely unexpected.”
In a report released earlier this year, the NCTM called for major shifts in the way math is organized and taught in high school, including focusing more deeply on fewer essential concepts. Larson said that states have made solid progress adopting good math standards, but the ACT results suggest that schools need to focus on improving curriculum and instructional practice to bring those expectations fully to life.
“As a country, we’ve reached the limits of what we can get out of standards alone,” he said. “We need to pay more attention to what is taking place in the classroom.”