ACT: Test Scores Plunged in 2022

The average composite ACT score for the 2022 class dropped to the lowest level in more than 30 years.
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  • Not only were average composite scores lower, fewer students also met subject area benchmarks in 2022.
  • ACT attributes the trend to systemic failures in education, not just pandemic impacts.
  • ACT scores have declined at the same time that many institutions have shifted to or remained test-optional.

Scores on the ACT college entrance exam for the 2022 class fell to the lowest levels in more than 30 years, but don't just blame disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Since 1991, the average ACT composite score hasn't been below 20 out of a possible 36. This year, the average score was 19.8, according to the nonprofit organization that administers the college entrance exam.

In a press release Wednesday, ACT CEO Janet Godwin shared that ACT scores have been steadily declining for five consecutive years, signaling a "a worrisome trend that began long before the disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic."

According to the ACT, less than a quarter of students (22%) taking the test in 2022 met all four ACT subject area benchmarks, which many educators believe to be indicators for college readiness in math, reading, science, and English; 42% of students tested met none of these benchmarks.

"The magnitude of the declines this year is particularly alarming, as we see rapidly growing numbers of seniors leaving high school without meeting the college-readiness benchmark in any of the subjects we measure," Godwin said.

“Less than a quarter of students (22%) taking the test in 2022 met all four ACT subject area benchmarks ... 42% of students tested met none of these benchmarks.”
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In the last year, the percentage of students who met all four benchmarks dropped from 25% to 22%, while those who met none increased by four percentage points (38% to 42%).

While the number of students that took the ACT at least once in 2022 increased to nearly 1.35 million — about 55,000 more students than last year — that number remains much lower than pre-pandemic levels.

Although learning disruption during the pandemic is being attributed to the decline, the score decline might not just be a result of a post-pandemic slump, according to ACT.

"These declines are not simply a byproduct of the pandemic. They are further evidence of longtime systemic failures that were exacerbated by the pandemic," Godwin said.

She continued, "A return to the pre-pandemic status quo would be insufficient and a disservice to students and educators. These systemic failures require sustained collective action and support for the academic recovery of high school students as an urgent national priority and imperative."

Test-Optional Trend Remains Strong

The declines in the number of students taking the ACT and the declines in their test scores were announced as many higher education institutions are moving away from requiring standardized tests for admission.

Early in the pandemic, standardized testing sites across the country were shut down, which led to nationwide testing delays or cancellations.

Closures, on top of widespread learning disruption, caused many colleges and universities to not include standardized test scores in their admissions process.

“More than 1,800 accredited bachelor's degree institutions are now test-optional, as opposed to just over 1,000 before the pandemic.”
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In July, the California Institute of Technology announced that it would extend its moratorium on requiring SAT and ACT test scores until 2025. It likewise said it won't consider an applicant's test scores, even if they are submitted. The school first waived the testing requirement in June 2020 amid the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In 2020, the University of California system voted to eliminate SAT and ACT test score requirements by 2025.

Harvard announced last year that standardized testing requirements would be waived for undergraduates through the class of 2030.

Colorado and Iowa also recently removed the standardized test requirement at their public institutions.

According to FairTest, a national center that is in opposition to standardized testing, more than 1,800 accredited bachelor's degree institutions are now test-optional, as opposed to just over 1,000 before the pandemic.