The nonprofit ACT, which administers the test of the same name, reported Wednesday that scores had fallen for the sixth year in a row, with a record share of test takers failing to meet any of the organization’s college-readiness standards.
This means that their performance in English, reading, math and science suggested that they would not be able to get a B or C in their entry-level college courses.
For the 1.4 million ACT test takers in the high school class of 2023, the average composite score on the exam was 19.5 out of 36, the lowest score since 1991. according to the non-profit organization. Forty-three percent of students did not meet any of the subject benchmarks, up from 36 percent in 2019.
These respondents were freshmen in high school when the coronavirus pandemic interrupted their schooling, forcing many of them to take months of online learning. The decline in ACT performance is broadly in line with pandemic-era trends on other national exams.
Still, the results are difficult to interpret because of large changes in college enrollment and state high school requirements that can lower scores.
Only 43 percent of college applicants submitted SAT or ACT scores last year report from the Common App, down from 74 percent before the pandemic. That change was prompted by colleges adopting optional admissions policies, partly out of concern that the exams were unfair to low-income students.
At the same time, ACT expanded its business with state education systems, according to the nonprofit, meaning that in the high school class of 2023, about 748,000 students took the test during the school day, for free, compared to 590,000 students. in the class of 2021.
Sixteen states required or strongly encouraged the exam this year, including Alabama, Arizona, Mississippi and Nevada. Those policies can potentially lower average scores, as students take the test regardless of whether they plan to attend college.
Rose Babington, senior director at ACT, acknowledged the fluctuating testing cohort but argued that a persistent year-on-year decline remained noticeable after the pandemic.
“These students have had that disruptive experience,” she said, “and they probably need additional support” in colleges or the workplace.