National ACT Scores Drop to Lowest in 30+ Years

Earlier this month, ACT released their data for the 1.3 million students in the graduating class of 2022 who took the ACT exam. While there was plenty to learn from the full report, there were two pieces of information that stood out (and not for great reasons): the national average Composite score for the class of 2022 came in at 19.8 out of 36, the lowest average score since 1991, and 42 percent of students met none of the ACT College Readiness Benchmarks – designed to measure how prepared graduates are for college. While this year broke records, it’s not wholly unsurprising considering ACT scores have been steadily trending downwards in recent years. But why were scores this year particularly poor –and, more importantly, how can we reverse the trend?

While it would be nice to neatly summarize exactly what is causing this troubling dip in scores, opinions vary about what exactly is going wrong. (Seriously, Google “low ACT scores” right now and you’ll find several different think pieces about it.) However, there are a few hypotheses that have support.

Virtual learning hurt students, but these declines started prior to COVID-19.

While the intensity of this year’s decline in scores may be partially attributable to the academic disruptions the class of 2022 faced because of the pandemic, it’s a cop-out to say school shutdowns are the sole culprit. The CEO of ACT, Janet Godwin, stated, “This is the fifth consecutive year of declines in average scores, a worrisome trend that began long before the disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic, and has persisted.” Doing entire semesters of high school via Zoom were certainly not conducive to incredible test-taking, but things were, unfortunately, going downhill before the word “COVID” entered our vocab.

Because so many schools are going test-optional or even test-blind, students don’t feel obligated to meet testing standards.

Many of the opinion pieces that have come out since ACT released its data argue that falling test scores are to be blamed on a “lack of accountability” from educators and students. Because many students don’t see test scores as a necessity for applying to college, they’ve become low priority. “Reinstating ACT or SAT test requirements would make the admissions process fairer, promote high school accountability and — not least — help ensure that students are prepared for college once they get there,” Michael Bloomberg writes in the previously linked article.

The data from ACT shows “learner loss,” not “learning loss.”

This was the phrase used by Akil Bello, the Senior Director of Advocacy and Advancement at FairTest, in his article for Forbes. As Bello explains, the information coming from ACT is actually much more nuanced than simply “the pandemic interfered with school” or “students aren’t trying as hard!” As Bello explains, the demographic of the test taker pool has changed dramatically in recent years, and the states who have typically performed best on the ACT have lost the most test takers. In other words, some of the nation’s strongest students are opting to take the SAT or sit out the tests altogether.

That’s not to say there isn’t a major problem that so many students are failing to meet benchmarks. However, deeming America’s educational system “in crisis” would be overlooking the complex factors that go into this data. “Perhaps looking at college admissions tests as measures of national academic progress is not the right data or right use of available data. Looking at test score changes and ignoring underlying demographic changes has never been the right approach,” Bello writes. “Investing in quality teaching, curriculum, facilities, after-school activities and the tools to combat poverty will improve academic outcomes.”

As always, The Enrichery is taking a close look at this information and evaluating our test prep program accordingly. It is our mission to ensure all of our students get the most out of their test prep in order to achieve their highest potential scores on the ACT and SAT. The Enrichery seeks to be a place where students can come to address areas of weakness and feel empowered to close those gaps. If you are feeling behind on core content – or simply want to hit that ambitious goal score you’ve set for yourself – academic coaching can get you in a good place prior to ACT and SAT time.