The ACT Announces Consistent Decline in Average Scores on College Admissions Tests

Faith Monahan ’24

News Editor

The ACT has announced that average test scores have continued to decline consecutively over the past six years, reaching their lowest point for the graduating high school class of 2023. Current high school seniors were a little over halfway into their freshman year when the COVID-19 pandemic had shut down in-person learning in the March of 2023. Although the decline began pre-pandemic, rates had begun to drop more significantly after 2020. The results come amidst significant changes in the college admissions process following the Supreme Court’s reversal of affirmative action.

Between 2017 and 2020, the average composite score nationally had dropped by roughly 0.1 or 0.2 points per year from 21.0 to 20.6 over four years. Since then, the average composite score has dropped from 20.6 to 19.5 in 2023. The ACT uses College Readiness Benchmarks to estimate how well students will do in corresponding college classes on English, reading, math and science. The report states that an estimated 20.8% of students who took the test did not meet the benchmarks of all categories determined by the ACT. The percentage of students meeting no benchmarks had increased too, from 41.6% in 2022 to 43.3% in 2023. Around 1.4 million students took the test in 2023 marking an increase from 2022.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, an increasing amount of college admissions policies have shifted to allow applicants to not take an entrance exam such as the SAT or ACT, but the trend of colleges going test-optional began pre-pandemic. Trinity College began a test-optional policy in 2015, stating on its admissions website, “the college is test-optional, providing students the opportunity to present application material that accurately reflects their diverse academic talents and potential.” Places of higher education have made such changes given the increasing debate over how effective such entrance exams are for measuring a student’s potential, and that such tests may add an extra barrier for low-income students. The U.S. News College Rankings had begun to rank colleges that went test-optional over the past years at a lower rate in response. In 2017 Trinity College dropped from 38th to 44th place in part for being less “selective” after implementing the test-optional policy. Colleges with test-optional policies emphasize that they want to take a more holistic approach in selecting their student body.

About 16 states either require or highly encourage their students to take the ACT. States where an estimated 89% or more of students take the exam include Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Wisconsin and Wyoming. Students in other states take the SAT at a much lower estimated rate. Maine has the lowest rate, with only an estimated 2% of students taking the test. States with a higher rate of students taking the test scored the lowest composite scores. The ACT has suggested that since the test is required in some states, not all students who took the test may be planning on applying for college. The testing organization also emphasizes necessary improvement in the American public education system.

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