The ACT has released the average scores for the class of 2022, which show a precipitous drop in national averages. The class of 2022 had an average composite score of 19.8—down from 20.3 in 2021—making this the first time since 1991 that the average score has fallen below 20. This number offers a more comprehensive picture than in years past, as a record 60% of students took the test in 2022, compared to 27% in 2015. The decline is consistent with dropping averages in other standardized tests across age groups, including the SAT, which saw a 10 point drop, and the NAEP Age 9 Assessment, which yielded the lowest scores in math and reading in decades.
While the pandemic and resultant learning gaps have exacerbated the decline in composite score averages, national averages have been decreasing consistently over the last five years. Janet Godwin, CEO of the ACT organization, stated in a press release: “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. These declines are not simply a byproduct of the pandemic.”
The ACT consists of four sections testing English, math, reading, and science—each scored on a scale of 1-36, the composite of which represents overall score. The English (with the lowest average, at 19.0) and math sections both saw a decline of 0.6% between 2021 and 2022, while reading and science declined at a slightly lesser rate of 0.5%.
The decline in the national score average also raises questions about student success in higher education. The 2022 score average indicates that an increasing number of high school graduates are failing to meet the ACT College Readiness Benchmarks, score metrics which demonstrate the students’ grasp of the information needed to succeed in first-year college coursework. According to the ACT press release, only 22% of students taking the test successfully met all of the College Readiness Benchmarks (compared to 25% in 2021), and 42% who failed to meet any of them (up from 38% in 2021).
The decline in ACT scores indicates that the road ahead for institutions of higher learning will continue to be complex and extensive as colleges continue to assess how best to address lost or unmet learning amongst incoming students.