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Math Skills of US High School Graduates Continue Downward Slide

FILE - An ACT assessment test for U.S. college admissions is seen in Springfield, Illinois, April 1, 2014.

The math skills of college-bound high school graduates in the United States have slid to their lowest point in 14 years, according to a national testing organization.

An indicator that the students were "ready to succeed" in a first-year college algebra class fell to its lowest level since 2004, according to ACT, an organization that administers standardized testing to students. Forty percent of those who took the ACT national test, used for college admissions applications as an alternative to the Scholastic Aptitude Test, or SAT, met or surpassed the ACT College Readiness Benchmark for math.

That was a decline from 46 percent in 2012.

"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," said ACT CEO Marten Roorda in a news 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."

English and science

Scores in English proficiency, or readiness, as it is known in education circles, also dropped again. They fell to 60 percent of test-takers this year from 64 percent in 2015, the lowest level since testing began.

Reading and science levels showed neither a long-term decline nor an increase. In reading, 46 percent were ready to move to the next level of learning, while in science, that metric stood at 36 percent.

"Science remains the subject area in which students are least likely to be prepared for college coursework," the report stated.

Among high school graduates in 2018, 35 percent met none of the ACT benchmarks, an increase from 31 percent in 2014, ACT reported.

"Slightly fewer ACT-tested graduates were well prepared for college coursework overall this year than last year," ACT stated. "These students are likely to struggle in first-year college coursework in all four core subject areas."

Race and ethnicity

Asian-Americans performed the best on the benchmark tests. Their average score rose compared with students in other racial or ethnic groups, whose scores declined.

Hispanic and African-American students scored behind their white and Asian-American counterparts. Less than one-quarter of "low-income, minority, and/or first-generation college students ... who make up 43 percent of all ACT-tested graduates … were well prepared for college coursework."

The ACT uses a numerical score of 0 to 36 to rank student proficiencies. The average overall score of American high school graduates ready for college-level courses overall this year was 20.8 out of 36.

"STEM's future not adding up well for America," headlined the news from ACT, meaning science, technology, engineering and math proficiency was not improving.