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ACT Scores Reach 30-Year Low

ACT test scores for U.S. students are at their lowest in thirty years.

The average composite score on the exam was 19.5 out of 36 for the 1.4 million ACT test-takers in the high school class of 2023—the lowest score since 1991. 43% of students did not meet any of the subject-matter benchmarks, up from 36% in 2019. Experts warn that the low test scores show a lack of student preparedness for college coursework.

“The hard truth is that we are not doing enough to ensure that graduates are truly ready for postsecondary success in college and career,” Janet Godwin, chief executive officer for the nonprofit ACT, says.


ACT scores have dipped consecutively for six years now. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the drop accelerated more. Class of 2023 students were in their first year of high school when the coronavirus reached the U.S.

Since the pandemic, a number of universities have made standardized testing optional for admissions arguing that the tests tend to favor wealthy applicants and put low-income students at a disadvantage. Only 43% of college applicants submitted SAT or ACT scores last year, according to a report by the Common App—down from 74% pre-pandemic.

But Godwin says the scores can still be helpful for placing students into appropriate college courses and giving academic advisors tools to better support students.

“In terms of college readiness, even in a test-optional environment, these kinds of objective test scores about academic readiness are incredibly important,” Godwin says.

Only 21% of ACT test-takers met benchmarks for success in college-level classes in all subjects. Research from the ACT shows that students who meet the benchmarks have a 50% probability of achieving a grade of B or higher and a nearly 75% chance of securing a grade of C or higher in the corresponding courses. Currently, only 16 states required or highly encouraged the ACT exam this year, including Alabama, Arizona, Mississippi and Nevada.

Sources: NPR, The New York Times

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