In a disconcerting revelation, high school students' ACT scores in the U.S. have plummeted to their lowest point, 19.5 for class of 2023, in over 30 years. This worrisome trend, indicating a lack of preparedness for college-level coursework, has been confirmed by the nonprofit organization responsible for administering the test.

The Alarming Numbers

Scores have been on a continuous decline for six years, with the trend intensifying during the tumultuous period of the COVID-19 pandemic. The scores of the class of 2023, reported recently, reflect the impact of the virus during their crucial first year of high school.

"The hard truth is that we are not doing enough to ensure that graduates are truly ready for postsecondary success in college and career," expressed Janet Godwin, CEO of the nonprofit ACT.

The average ACT composite score for U.S. students now stands at 19.5 out of 36, a decrease from the previous year's average of 19.8. College Board reported a 10.1% increase in the class of 2023 SAT test takers — with 1.9 million high schoolers taking the SAT, up from 1.7 million the previous year. However, the average score decreased from 1050 for the class of 2022 to 1028 for the class of 2023.

Understanding the Challenges

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the decline of ACT scores is a multifaceted issue that goes beyond the traditional challenges faced in education. Let's delve into the various aspects contributing to this acceleration:

1. Disruption of Learning Environments

The sudden closure of schools and the shift to remote learning posed significant challenges. Many students faced difficulties adapting to virtual classrooms, with issues such as lack of access to technology, distractions at home, and the absence of face-to-face interaction affecting their engagement and understanding of coursework.

2. Changes in Testing Conditions

The pandemic necessitated adjustments to standardized testing conditions. Test changes in formats, and the overall uncertainty surrounding exams created an additional layer of stress for students. Adapting to these changes could have affected their test-taking performance.

3. Educator Adaptation and Curriculum Adjustments

Educators faced the daunting task of adapting to new teaching methodologies, often without adequate training or resources. Curriculum adjustments to accommodate remote learning might have impacted the depth and breadth of subjects covered, influencing students' preparedness for standardized tests.

4. Impact on Future Planning

The pandemic introduced uncertainty regarding college plans. Changes in admissions policies, uncertainties about the format of future classes, and financial concerns influenced students' motivation and focus on standardized testing.

5. Falling Short of Benchmarks

Scores in reading, science, and math fall below the benchmarks set by the ACT for a high probability of success in first-year college courses. Even the average score in English, while above the benchmark, has declined compared to the previous year.

The Changing Landscape of College Admissions

1. Test-Optional Policies

As a response to criticism about favoring wealthier students, many universities, including the University of California system, have made standardized admissions tests optional. However, Janet Godwin argues that these scores still play a crucial role in determining college readiness and assisting academic advisors in supporting students effectively.

2. Student Perspectives

Denise Cabrera, a senior at Waianae High School in Hawaii, shares her thoughts on the necessity of the ACT. While acknowledging its limitations, she emphasizes its role in providing colleges with a standardized measure of academic readiness.


With universities, like the California Institute of Technology, implementing moratoriums on standardized test score requirements, students like Denise face choices about whether to submit scores. As we unravel the complexities behind the declining ACT scores, it's crucial to consider holistic approaches to education. Highlighting the importance of diverse qualities in college applications, we need to delve into the debate surrounding the relevance of standardized testing. The current state of ACT scores in the U.S. demands attention. By understanding the nuances of this decline and actively participating in the conversation, one can contribute to reshaping the landscape of education for the better. 

Source: ACT test scores for U.S. students drop to a 30-year low

Hazel Ricky
Content Marketing Associate
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