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

By CHEYANNE MUMPHREY – AP Education Writer

PHOENIX (AP) — This year’s high school seniors’ ACT college admissions test scores hit their lowest level in more than 30 years — the latest demonstration of the extent of learning disruption during the pandemic.

The average ACT composite score for the Class of 2022 was 19.8 out of 36, marking the first time since 1991 that the average score was below 20. Additionally, an increasing number of high school students did not meet any of the departmental benchmarks established by the ACT—demonstrating a decline in readiness for college-level academic achievement.

The test results, released in a report on Wednesday, show that 42% of ACT-tested graduates in the Class of 2022 failed to achieve any of the subject benchmarks in English, reading, science and math, which are indicators of how well the students will perform in corresponding university courses.

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In comparison, 38% of test takers in 2021 did not meet any of the benchmarks.

“In academic readiness, we’re seeing the decline,” said Rose Babington, senior director for state partnerships for the ACT. “Every time we see ACT test results we talk about skills and standards and predicting that students will be successful and knowing the really important information to be successful and succeed in the freshman year of college courses. “

ACT scores have steadily declined in recent years. Still, “the magnitude of the declines this year is particularly alarming,” ACT CEO Janet Godwin said in a statement.

The findings offer a glimpse into systemic inequalities in education that were present well before the pandemic, when schools and colleges temporarily waived testing requirements. For example, students without access to a rigorous high school curriculum suffered more setbacks during the pandemic disruptions, Babington said. These students are from rural areas, come from low-income families, and are often colored students.

The number of students completing the ACT has declined by 30% since 2018 as graduates increasingly skip college and some universities no longer require admissions tests. But participation among black students fell 37%, with 154,000 taking the test that year.

Standardized tests like the ACT face growing concerns that they are unfair to minority and low-income students, as students with access to expensive test preparation or advanced courses often do better.

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

Test scores are now optional at many institutions for freshman admissions. Some colleges, like the University of California system, even opt for a test-blind policy where scores are not considered even if they are submitted.

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

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

“The test just gave me extra financial money,” Jordan said.

While Jordan always intended to take the test, many students have difficulty accessing or choose not to take the test because their universities of choice no longer require it. Everyone is being tested in Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, Tennessee and Wyoming.

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