ACT test scores drop to lowest in 30 years in pandemic slide

  • Comments
  • Print

Scores on the ACT college admissions test by this year’s high school graduates hit their lowest point in more than 30 years—the latest evidence of the enormity of learning disruption during the pandemic.

The class of 2022’s average ACT composite score was 19.8 out of 36, marking the first time since 1991 that the average score was below 20. What’s more, an increasing number of high school students failed to meet any of the subject-area benchmarks set by the ACT—showing a decline in preparedness for college-level coursework.

The test scores, made public in a report Wednesday, show 42% of ACT-tested graduates in the class of 2022 met none of the subject benchmarks in English, reading, science and math, which are indicators of how well students are expected to perform in corresponding college courses.

In comparison, 38% of test takers in 2021 failed to meet any of the benchmarks.

In Indiana, only 13% of 2022 graduates took the ACT and scored an average composite score of 22.8%, topping the national average. Indiana test-takers exceeded the national average in the subjects of English, reading, science and match.

“Academic preparedness is where we are seeing the decline,” said Rose Babington, senior director for state partnerships for the ACT. “Every time we see ACT test scores, we are talking about skills and standards, and the prediction of students to be successful and to know the really important information to succeed and persist through their first year of college courses.”

ACT scores have declined steadily in recent years. Still, “the magnitude of the declines this year is particularly alarming,” ACT CEO Janet Godwin said in a statement. “We see rapidly growing numbers of seniors leaving high school without meeting college-readiness benchmarks in any of the subjects we measure.”

The results offer a lens into systemic inequities in education, in place well before the pandemic shuttered schools and colleges temporarily waived testing requirements. For example, students without access to rigorous high school curriculum suffered more setbacks during pandemic disruptions, Babington said. Those students are from rural areas, come from low-income families and are often students of color.

The number of students taking the ACT has declined 30% since 2018, as graduates increasingly forgo college and some universities no longer require admissions tests. But participation plunged 37% among Black students, with 154,000 taking the test this year.

Standardized tests such as the ACT have faced growing concerns that they’re unfair to minority and low-income students, as students with access to expensive test prep or advanced courses often perform better.

Babington defended the test as a measure of college readiness. “Now more than ever, the last few years have shown us the importance of having high-quality data to help inform how we support students,” Babington said.

Test scores now are optional for first-year student admission at many institutions. Some colleges, such as the University of California system, even opt for a test-blind policy, where scores are not considered even if submitted.

But many students still take the tests, hoping to get an edge in admissions by submitting their scores. Tyrone Jordan, a freshman at test-optional Arizona State University, said he took the ACT and the SAT to get ahead of other students and help him receive scholarships.

Jordan, who wants to pursue mechanical engineering, said he thinks his rigorous schedule at Tempe Preparatory Academy prepared him for college, and the standardized tests helped support him and his family financially.

“All the test did for me was give me extra financial money,” Jordan said.

While Jordan was always planning to take the test, many students struggle with access or choose not to take the test since their universities of choice no longer require it. In Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, Tennessee and Wyoming, everyone is tested.

Please enable JavaScript to view this content.

Story Continues Below

Editor's note: You can comment on IBJ stories by signing in to your IBJ account. If you have not registered, please sign up for a free account now. Please note our updated comment policy that will govern how comments are moderated.

2 thoughts on “ACT test scores drop to lowest in 30 years in pandemic slide

  1. Idea – teaching have one goal, which is teaching towards standardized tests. They get rewarded if their students performs well. Thoughts?

    Also, let’s focus on STEM and only dabble in some arts.

    Also, let’s get our school directly connected with employers (even in high school) to start developing real life skills to be a productive members of society.


    1. Not the direction American education is headed, even though what you’re suggesting is probably wiser than any of the cockamamie ideas coming from education leaders.

      Many schools are de-emphasizing SAT/ACT, and a sizable (and growing) number of universities don’t require it.

      This is a disaster. The SAT/ACT were the only ways of truly determining if a student with good grades from an underperforming school can pass muster in a university setting. It’s the standardization we had and really what we need. Without it, a person who gets a 4.0 GPA while taking mostly fluffy classes (health, business ad min, shop, home ec) can still easily qualify for a prestigious school. Or, more devastatingly, a kid who does well in an inner-city school can get admitted while still operating at a 7th grade math/reading level. But using these standards is “racist” according to the wokies, so out the door they go.

      More soft bigotry of low expectations…giving that statement cogency was George Dubya Bush’s only real accomplishment.