The ACT, one of the most widely used college admissions tests in the US, has reported the lowest average score in more than 30 years for the class of 2023. The decline in scores reflects the challenges faced by students during the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the shifting trends in college admissions policies.
ACT Scores Drop to 19.5 out of 36
According to the ACT, the average composite score for the 1.4 million students who took the test in 2023 was 19.5 out of 36, down from 19.8 in 2022 and 20.7 in 2019. This is the lowest score since 1991, when the average was 19.4. The average scores in reading, science and math all were below benchmarks that indicate readiness for college-level coursework. Only 37% of students met at least three of the four benchmarks, down from 44% in 2019.
The ACT also reported that 43% of students did not meet any of the subject-matter benchmarks, up from 36% in 2019. This means that nearly half of the test-takers are likely to struggle in their first-year college courses. The ACT said that this is a “serious concern” for the future of education and workforce development.
COVID-19 Pandemic Disrupts Learning and Testing
The drop in ACT scores can be partly attributed to the disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced many schools to switch to remote or hybrid learning models, affecting the quality and quantity of instruction. Many students also faced challenges such as lack of access to technology, internet, or quiet study spaces, as well as increased stress and anxiety.
The pandemic also affected the availability and accessibility of testing opportunities for students. Many test dates were canceled or rescheduled due to health and safety protocols, resulting in fewer students taking the test and less preparation time. Some students also opted out of taking the test due to health concerns or lack of interest.
College Admissions Policies Become More Flexible
Another factor that may have contributed to the decline in ACT scores is the change in college admissions policies in response to the pandemic. Many colleges and universities adopted test-optional or test-blind policies, meaning that they did not require or consider standardized test scores for admission decisions. This reduced the pressure and incentive for students to take or retake the test, especially if they had other strong aspects of their application.
According to FairTest, a nonprofit organization that advocates for test-optional admissions, more than 1,600 accredited four-year colleges and universities have announced test-optional policies for fall 2024 applicants, accounting for more than 70% of all US institutions. Some of these policies are temporary, while others are permanent or under review.
Implications and Recommendations
The record low ACT scores have raised concerns about the academic preparedness and readiness of high school students for college and beyond. The ACT said that it is working with educators, policymakers, and other stakeholders to provide support and resources for students and schools to improve learning outcomes and close achievement gaps.
The ACT also recommended that students take advantage of its free online test preparation tools, such as ACT Academy and PreACT, to improve their skills and confidence. Additionally, the ACT encouraged students to consider taking or retaking the test if they have not yet achieved their desired score or if they are applying to colleges that still require or recommend test scores.