21 October 2023
American high school students' scores on the ACT college admissions test have dropped to their lowest in more than 30 years.
The average score of students who completed high school in 2023 was 19.5 out of a possible 36. Last year, students averaged 19.8.
The average score dropped for the sixth straight year.
Scores were already falling before the COVID-19 pandemic. But the scores fell faster during and after the pandemic period.
The students who took the test in 2023 were in their first year of high school when COVID-19 reached the United States.
Janet Godwin leads ACT, the nonprofit organization that administers the test. She said that high schools are "not doing enough to ensure that graduates are truly ready for postsecondary success in college and career."
The average scores in reading, math and science were all below the level that ACT says demonstrates a good chance of succeeding in first-year college courses. The average score in English was just above the "benchmark" level, but it was still lower than in 2022.
The falling scores come at the same time many colleges and universities established admissions policies that do not require the test. However, students are welcome to provide the scores if they wish.
Some universities do not look at test scores even if students send them in. College admission tests have been criticized for favoring students who come from wealthier families and schools.
Godwin, however, said the test scores from her organization still help universities place students in the proper classes.
"Even in a test-optional environment, these kinds of objective test scores about academic readiness are incredibly important," she said.
Some current high school students wonder why the tests are necessary. Denise Cabrera is a 17-year-old in Hawaii. She said all of her classmates had to take the test in 11th grade.
Cabrera said she believed taking it and getting a good score would help her get into a good college. But she thinks colleges and universities can learn more about a student by looking at "different qualities ... outside of just a one-time test score."
Godwin said about 1.4 million high school students took the test this year. That was an increase over 2022 but still below the numbers recorded before the pandemic.
Only 21 percent of students reached the levels the ACT organization believes are necessary to predict good success in college.
I'm Dan Friedell.
Dan Friedell adapted this story for Learning English based on a report by the Associated Press.
Words in This Story
postsecondary –adj. school or work that comes after high school
bechmark –n. a score or result that is of a certain (often high) standard
academic –adj. having to do with school or education
incredibly –adv. used to amplify the importance of the word coming next, hard to believe
grade –n. the year a person is in school