A new report from ACT, the Iowa-based college admissions testing company, has mixed results for California, showing that the state’s 2016 high school graduates had greater interest in pursuing STEM-related college majors or career opportunities than the national average but minimal interest in teaching the subjects.
The ACT report, “The Condition of STEM 2016,” found that 53 percent of graduates in California expressed an interest in STEM majors or careers, compared with about 48 percent nationally.
Interest in STEM majors or careers was determined by the number of students who provided profile and survey information when they enrolled for the test. In the survey, the students picked subjects related to science or math from a list of 294 college majors and occupations as areas of future study and work. About 2.1 million students took the ACT test, including 127,225 in California.
California also had many more high school graduates who met its college readiness benchmark for math and science than the national average – 36 percent compared with 25 percent nationally.
Overall, ACT officials said, the performance of California graduates suggests that the state is making inroads in convincing more students that jobs await them in the fields of math and science.
“This is a really positive step for California,” said Steven Triplett, program director in ACT’s client partnerships division in charge of K-12 and STEM fields. “The number of students who have taken the ACT in California and who met the benchmarks has increased substantially over the past four years. This is really good for California.”
California was one of 15 states that had an increase of 4 percent or more in students interested in STEM subjects since 2013. Massachusetts and Virginia had the largest increase in the number of students interested in STEM subjects, at 7 percent.
But the findings for California were not all positive.
The report said interest in teaching STEM subjects continues to be alarmingly low among high school graduates. Fewer than 1 percent who took the ACT – just 1,258 students – indicated an interest in teaching math or science, with only 64 of them in California. Three years ago, only 51 Californians among 1,241 students overall showed an interest.
Triplett said that rate underscores a disturbing trend across the country: the demand for science and math teachers is far outstripping the supply.
“The number of students who have taken the ACT in California and who met the benchmarks has increased substantially over the past four years. This is really good for California,” said Steven Triplett, program director in ACT’s client partnerships division in charge of K-12 and STEM fields.
In California, the number of credentials issued to new math and science teachers has declined over the past decade. In April, the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing said 1,119 math credentials were issued in the 2014-15 school year, the latest figures available. That’s down 8.4 percent from the 1,221 issued in the previous school year. There were 1,347 science credentials issued in 2014-15, 6 percent fewer than the year before.
The teacher shortage is hurting the ability of school districts to increase the number of girls and minorities pursuing careers in computer science, math and science, according to education experts in remarks to EdSource in recent months.
“I think we feel our role is to make people aware and look at the challenges out there, and how best to attack those issues in each state,” said Triplett about the lack of students interested in teaching.