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If I Could Write The Headlines For STEM

This is a guest blog by Karen Peterson, CEO and Founder, National Girls Collaborative Project
“Students and STEM: We Have a Lot of Work To Do.” That’s the headline we should never gloss over, no matter how many times we see it written. 
A few months ago, the National Assessment Governing Board (NAGB), the organization that administers the “Nation’s Report Card,” released the results of the inaugural Technology and Engineering Literacy (TEL) assessment, administered in 2014. The results of this assessment confirmed that our most persistent gaps, those connected to race and poverty, are present in technology and engineering, as they are with other subjects. The TEL showed a 28-point difference in proficiency levels for low-income students versus students from higher-income communities, and a dramatic gap of 38 points between white students and their black peers—56 percent proficient versus 18 percent. Those results weren’t unexpected, however, so the headline instead read “girls outperform boys” in tech literacy. The gap: three points. 
We cannot become so complacent with achievement gaps plaguing low-income students, students of color and female students that we no longer feel shocked by them. Studies such as this provide truly important data we can use to gauge our progress; however, the data doesn’t mean much if we fail to act on the results in a way that produces meaningful changes for ALL students.  Indeed, perhaps the most important takeaway from the TEL study isn’t a comparison between groups, at all. It’s the fact that just 43 percent of all U.S. eighth graders tested met or exceeded the benchmark for proficiency on the exam. Let that sink in.
The road ahead is far more complicated than a single sample assessment can cover. At the National Girls Collaborative Project (NGCP), we know the strategies used to encourage and sustain girls’ interest and pursuit of STEM studies and careers work not just for girls, but for all students. If we are to increase the number of young women and other underrepresented students pursuing STEM education and careers, we need partners like NMSI, exemplary programs that strive to reach students at all points in their academic careers and beyond. Behind the stark headlines lie models for expanding access to meaningful STEM exploration and boosting achievement across the board.
As former teacher, I know this work begins in the classroom, however, it doesn’t end there. Connecting classrooms to the diverse and valuable afterschool and summer programs expands opportunities to serve students.  Let’s work to bring together educators and organizations throughout the country that are committed to informing and encouraging students of all backgrounds to pursue careers in STEM. Because if any of our students are falling behind, we all are.