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College-Readiness Exam Scores Lowest in 30 Years

Education

Pencil for the exam. Printed school test answer sheet. | Image by nana_studio, Shutterstock

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The nonprofit that issues the American College Test (ACT) announced last week that average ACT scores nationally have dropped to their lowest levels since 1991.

The ACT exam has long been used to determine the academic aptitude and college readiness of aspiring college applicants.

The high school graduating class of 2022 scored an average composite score of 19.8 out of 32 nationally, falling below 20 for the first time in decades.

Poor performance manifested in every academic category, so much so that a total of 42% of students that took the ACT exam met none of the academic benchmarks across subjects, spotlighting flagging college readiness across the nation.

For its part, Texas logged the same average composite score as the country as a whole, 19.8, however, only about 22% of the class of 2022 ever took the exam, putting the Lone Star State squarely in the bottom half of individual state participation in the United States.

While official district-level figures are not readily available, Dallas Independent School District (DISD) is on track to underperform state average scores, with the Texas Observer noting in March:

“Dallas ISD’s average SAT and ACT scores are lower than the statewide averages. Nearly half of all Texas’ graduating students are considered college-ready in math, yet only 28.7% of Dallas ISD students can say the same.”

As previously reported in The Dallas Express, only 25% of DISD students scored “at or above the college-ready standard on SAT, ACT, TSIA, or earned college prep course.”

The figure is underscored by declining college enrollment immediately following high school for DISD graduates and an alarming on-time graduation rate of roughly 80% for the class of 2021.

Sharing similar experiences, the class of 2022 has dealt with significant challenges throughout high school.

The disruptions to education caused by the COVID-19 pandemic reportedly caused substantial, widespread learning loss, with the humanitarian organization UNICEF estimating the disruption to education could cost the current generation of students around the world up to $17 trillion in lifetime earnings and render considerable harm to global productivity.

Still, ACT CEO Janet Godwin claimed that this year’s ACT scores “are not simply a byproduct of the pandemic.”

“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,” stated Godwin.

One significant development in recent years is that many colleges are no longer factoring standardized tests like the ACT and SAT into admission decisions, claiming that such benchmarks are not the best predictors of college success.

Many institutions, like the University of Texas at Austin and Texas A&M, do not require test scores for first-year student admissions.

Rose Babington, the senior director for state partnerships for the ACT, defended the use of the ACT. She stated that “the last few years have shown us the importance of having high-quality data to help inform how we support students.”

Debates over how best to measure college readiness and whether U.S. high schools and colleges are lowering standards (to the detriment of American students) have been raging for years before COVID-19 upended everything and exacerbated existing crises in education.

Federal taxpayer resources have been mobilized to tackle the issue of pandemic-related learning loss, to the tune of $189 billion in emergency relief for public schools, but Godwin pointed out that “a return to the pre-pandemic status quo would be insufficient and a disservice to students and educators.”

She stated, “These systemic failures require sustained collective action and support for the academic recovery of high school students as an urgent national priority and imperative.”

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