ACT college exam finds average national score continues to decrease

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The ACT nonprofit organization on Wednesday announced that the national average composite score for its college readiness exam has decreased for the third year in a row.

The organization announced the data in a Wednesday press release, which said that the national average score for the 2020 U.S. high school graduating class was 20.6 out of a possible 36 points, a decrease from the 2019 national average of 20.7 and the lowest average in the past 10 years. 2020 also marks the third year in a row that the national average score has dropped.

The group also found that among “traditionally underserved racial/ethnic groups (i.e., not white or Asian),” the average test composite score decreased from 18 in 2016 to 17.7 in 2020. 

The ACT exam is meant to measure college readiness in English, mathematics, reading and science. According to Wednesday’s press release, just 26 percent of students who took the ACT exam met each of the four “College Readiness Benchmarks.”  

Additionally, more than half of “underserved students (low-income, minority, and/or first-generation college students)” met none of the benchmarks. 

“By our measures, more than half of underserved students aren’t college ready,” ACT CEO Janet Godwin said in the press release. “That’s unacceptable, and we must do better.”

Godwin added that “COVID-19 will only exacerbate these gaps and more students will miss out on opportunities to find success.” 

“I am hopeful though, that even with the disruption of 2020, ACT data will continue to serve as a consistent evaluation tool crucial to assessing learning gaps, identifying systemic barriers in education and most importantly highlighting opportunities for growth,” she continued. “Together with educators we will work tirelessly to improve student outcomes.”

Even though schools were forced to abruptly stop in-person instruction in the spring amid the coronavirus pandemic, Wednesday’s ACT report claimed that the “data do not suggest that ACT scores for the 2020 graduating class were affected in a substantive way by the safety measures and responses to COVID-19,” adding that “it is too early to determine the ways in which COVID-19 may affect the testing rates and average scores of future graduating classes.” 

ACT research has shown that students who report taking the recommended core curriculum — four years of English, three years of mathematics, three years of science and three years of social studies — are more likely to be ready for college or a career than those who do not.

The new data comes after the ACT and the College Board, which administers the SAT exam, announced in March that they would be rescheduling or canceling upcoming testing dates as the coronavirus pandemic hit the United States. 

In April, the ACT and the College Board announced that they were developing take-home versions of the exams as schools started to discuss the possibility of continuing virtual learning in the fall. 

On its website, the ACT now outlines specific protocols it has for schools still being used as in-person testing centers, including requiring everyone to wear face masks, providing hand sanitizer, arranging desks six feet apart, and administering health screenings for both test-takers and staff. 

According to the ACT, approximately 1.6 million students take the exam each year, compared with the estimated 3 million who take the SAT.

Tags ACT ACT tests College Board Coronavirus COVID-19 high school students SAT tests
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