About the Report

ACT has been a leader in measuring college and career readiness trends for years. Each August, we release The Condition of College & Career Readiness, our annual report on the progress of the ACT-tested graduating class relative to college readiness. Nationally, 54.3% of the 2013 graduating class took the ACT® college readiness assessment. The continued increase of test takers enhances the breadth and depth of the data pool, providing a comprehensive picture of the current college readiness levels of the graduating class as well as offering a glimpse of the emerging national educational pipeline. It also allows us to review various aspects of the ACT-tested 2013 graduating class. This report reviews the graduating class in the context of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics)-related fields. ACT is uniquely positioned to deliver this report for two key reasons. First is our commitment to science by the inclusion of subject-level science tests in our assessments. Second is a research-based measure of interests, the ACT Interest Inventory, with which we are able to determine student interest levels in specific STEM fields and, more importantly, readiness in math and science of those interested in STEM careers.

The report breaks the graduating class into four STEM-related cohorts:1

  1. Students who have an expressed and measured interest in STEM.
  2. Students who have an expressed interest only.
  3. Students who have a measured interest only.
  4. Students with no interest in STEM.

Essentially, a student who has an expressed interest in STEM is choosing a major or occupation (out of the 294 listed in the Standard Profile Section of the ACT) that corresponds with STEM fields. A measured interest utilizes the ACT Interest Inventory, an inventory delivered with the ACT that determines inherent interest in different occupations and majors. The College Choice Report details it is important to align students’ expressed and measured interests relative to postsecondary enrollment. In this report, we will primarily review the academic achievement of students in each of these cohorts as measured by the ACT College Readiness Benchmarks.2 Finally, we will look at academic achievement levels, particularly in math and science, by race/ethnicity, gender, parents’ level of education, and educational aspirations.

Refining the Definition of STEM3

As ACT began to review how to properly define STEM for this report, we were struck by the inconsistency of definitions across the country. In order to maintain consistency and offer states the opportunity to use this report as a baseline for state-level STEM initiatives, we needed to create areas within the STEM fields. This categorization gives states and their STEM councils the flexibility they need and provides a forum for a national discussion on definitions and categorizations. We hope this report sparks such a discussion. STEM Majors and Occupations describes how ACT chose to categorize STEM, based on the occupations and majors listed on the ACT. We determined four key areas:

  1. Science—Includes majors and occupations in the traditional hard sciences, as well as sciences involving the management of natural resources. Also includes science education.
  2. Computer Science and Mathematics—Includes majors and occupations in the computer sciences, as well as general and applied mathematics. Also includes mathematics education.
  3. Medical and Health—Includes majors and occupations in the health sciences and medical technologies.
  4. Engineering and Technology—Includes majors and occupations in engineering and engineering technologies.

The report will show achievement levels in each of these four areas on a national level. Also, by request of STEM councils around the country, we have included the actual number of students interested in specific majors and occupations. We do this so that STEM councils and other state officials can measure the numbers of students in specific major/occupational pipelines. This will assist them in documenting success of STEM initiatives that focus on generating interest in specific STEM fields.

ACT’s Commitment to STEM

In spring 2014, ACT will launch ACT Aspire™, an assessment system for grades 3–10. ACT Aspire will offer the same subjects as the ACT: English, reading, math, science, and writing. Based on the ACT College and Career Readiness Standards and aligned to the Common Core State Standards, ACT Aspire will provide an early indicator of statewide college and career readiness. To complement the information in this report, ACT will create a STEM score for students testing within the ACT Aspire system, giving educators a much earlier look at the STEM pipeline in their state. Our hope is to help educators, parents, and STEM councils and organizations around the country broaden STEM opportunities for students at all levels. This is a critical step if the United States is to remain a world leader, and ACT is committed to research and assessment practices that make greater STEM opportunities for students a reality.