Earlier today, a consortium of CEOs called for standard math and science benchmark testing for U.S. high school students, citing a wide variance among states of what is considered "proficient."
"We're doing students, parents and America's competitiveness a disservice by not demanding higher standards for STEM learning," Craig Barrett, former CEO of Intel and current chair of Change the Equation, the group behind the study, said in a statement.
The group is made up of 110 business executives who hope to improve STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) achievement in the country, especially among females and minorities, who have typically performed worse on STEM standardized tests than have white males.
The move comes a week after the Institute for a Competitive Workforce, a group affiliated with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, urged America to try new strategies with STEM education.
Change the Equation sent a letter and an individualized report to the governors of all 50 states and the mayor of Washington, D.C. The organization is urging leaders to focus more on STEM education and maintain high standards on state tests. The report outlines each state's test results and weaknesses and highlights achievement gaps between different demographic groups.
The main problem, the report says, is that many states have lowered passing scores on state science and math tests. Passing rates increase, but when students take nationwide tests such as the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), the same students who scored "proficient" on state exams fail.
"If you lower the bar, then the word proficient loses all meaning," said Linda Rosen, CEO of Change the Equation.
States need to prepare for a drop in student pass rates if standards are raised, as the report suggests.
It's not all bad news. Several states, including Michigan, New York, Oregon, and Tennessee, recently raised passing scores on their math tests. Some states are increasing the number of STEM teachers they employ. Maryland, for example, plans to triple the number of STEM teachers in areas that have current shortages over the next couple years.
President Barack Obama has championed improving STEM education. At a Facebook Town Hall event Wednesday, Obama reiterated the importance of STEM education.
"We've got to lift our game up when it comes to science, math, and technology," he said. "That's hopefully the greatest legacy I can have as President of the United States." In his 2011 State of the Union address in January, he said he wants the nation to prepare 100,000 new STEM teachers over the next 10 years.
Tom Kalil, the White House's deputy director for science and technology policy, said in order for the United States to catch up to countries such as China, India, and South Korea, America needs to fundamentally change to embrace STEM.
"In China, Bill Gates is Britney Spears; in the U.S., Britney Spears is Britney Spears," he said. "We need to teach our kids that it's not just the winner of the Super Bowl who deserves to be celebrated—it's the winner of the science fair, too."