This year’s high school graduates scored lower on the ACT college admissions exam than any other class in the last 30 years, showing the toll pandemic-era disruptions has taken on student learning.

The national average composite school for the Class of 2022 was 19.8 — the lowest average score since 1991, according to new data released Wednesday.

“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,” said Janet Godwin, the CEO of the ACT, in a statement.

Roughly 1.3 million students nationwide took the ACT during their senior year — or 36% of recent graduates. And a greater share of students took the exam more than once compared to 2021 grads.

The implications may go beyond the lower scores while applying to college.

More than 4 in 10 test-takers did not meet any of the ACT’s benchmarks for “college readiness” in English, reading, math and science — suggesting these students whose high school careers were impacted by COVID-19 for larger stretches may have arrived on campus unprepared for high-level coursework.

“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,” said Godwin.

This year's high school graduating class had the lowest average ACT score since 1991.
This year’s high school graduating class had the lowest average ACT score since 1991.

The share of students taking the ACT varied widely from state-to-state. In some states, including California and Maine, less than 5% of graduates sat for the test, the ACT data shows.

Metrics from those states come as school systems like the University of California have ended the use of the SAT and ACT in its college admissions practices.

And while some college and universities have tried so-called “test-blind” or “test-optional” admissions during the pandemic and made the change permanent, others like MIT have reverted back to using the indicator as one of many when considering an applicant.

The national average ACT score for 2022 was 19.8 out of 36.
The national average ACT score for 2022 was 19.8 out of 36.
Elias Funez/The Union via AP, File
Janet Godwin, the CEO of the ACT, said it was the fifth consecutive year of declines in average scores.
Janet Godwin, the CEO of the ACT, said it was the fifth consecutive year of declines in average scores.
Joseph Cress/Iowa City Press-Cit

The data also showed racial disparities — with black and Hispanic students scoring below the nationwide averages for all students. More white students sat for the exam than test-takers of any other race.

The ACT data on Wednesday is another in a growing list of studies giving a first glimpse at how students fared during the pandemic — especially those whose time in primary and secondary school was most interrupted by school closures and the trauma of the pandemic.

Results of 9-year-olds from the National Assessment of Educational Progress — dubbed “the nation’s report card” — showed last month that reading scores recorded their largest dip in 30 years, while math plummeted for the first time since the test 50 years ago.



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