High School Students’ ACT Scores At Lowest Level Since 1991

act scores record decline
Tdorante10, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

The future looks bleak for the next generation of American adults, with more bad news on the education front. New standardized testing scores show that the American education system is in a critical stage of disrepair. 

While there is an overwhelming agreement that school shutdowns during the COVID-19 pandemic played a significant role in American students’ decline in academic performance, the recent results from the ACT standardized test have many asking if the problem is more profound than just the pandemic response.

As we look back at what has caused the academic decline in America, it’s essential to discuss what the future might hold for a country rocked by educational strife. So let’s take a look at just how bad these scores are.

The Future Is So Bleak

This year’s graduates had the lowest average ACT scores in three decades. The ACT is a standardized test used by colleges and universities for admissions – most students either take the ACT or the SAT. 

Perhaps more important is the test’s ability to gauge a graduate’s readiness for college in general. The test encompasses English, reading, math, and science skills. 

Out of the 2022 graduating class, more than 40% of students didn’t meet any ACT college readiness benchmarks across the four subjects tested. Furthermore, only 22% of graduates met all four benchmarks in the core subjects.

With the highest possible score of 36, the average score came out to 19.8, the lowest average ACT score since 1991. However, it is interesting to note that this is the fifth consecutive year that the average ACT scores have declined.

The ACT CEO Janet Godwin explains why this should alarm parents and educators:

“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.”

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We Can’t Just Blame COVID

ABC News asked White House COVID response figurehead Anthony Fauci if he believes it was a mistake for schools to have closed during the pandemic. Spoken like a true politician, he responded:

“I don’t want to use the word ‘mistake,’ Jon, because if I do, it gets taken out of context that you’re asking me the question on. We should realize, and have realized, that there will be deleterious collateral consequences when you do something like that.”

Though, with ACT scores declining over the last five years, we can’t hang the blame on COVID alone for why scores are plummeting. As Ms. Godwin states:

“A return to the pre-pandemic status quo would be insufficient and a disservice to students and educators. These systemic failures require sustained collective action and support for the academic recovery of high school students as an urgent national priority and imperative.”

However, some argue that these scores don’t matter, given that many colleges and universities have done away with the requirement for standardized testing. 

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To Test Or Not To Test

COVID-induced school closures had many in higher education calling for and implementing either the suspension or complete removal of standardized testing. As a result, the number of students who have taken the ACT is down 30% since 2018.

Arguments for removing standardized testing from college admissions applications range from the COVID pandemic to a desire to push for ‘equity’ on college campuses. However, there is something more to be said about the utility of standardized tests like the ACT and SAT outside of just admissions.

The ACT is a three-hour test with minimal breaks that acts as a barometer on whether a student has a high probability of successfully completing their first year of college. College learning is or should be quite a bit more rigorous than the type of learning required to graduate high school.

In many ways, these tests act as a bridge between their childhood educational journeys into their adult educational journeys. For example, the ACT tests your knowledge of advanced vocabulary, ability to participate in rhetorical analysis, and understanding of how probability and averages play into real-world applications.

I would also argue that taking the test and seeing how well you score is also a measure of an individual’s mental endurance. Sitting for three hours builds on your ability to focus, withstand academic fervor, and develop intellectual stamina. All things that can be indicators of later success in academia and the workforce.

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What Say You, Randi?

While Mr. Fauci can legitimately claim that he didn’t specifically call for the closure of schools and even advocated explicitly for schools to remain open safely, the same can’t be said for others, including the head of the American Federation of Teachers, Randi Weingarten. As far as I can tell, she doesn’t have much to say about the ACT scores.

However, when the National Assessment of Educational Progress scores, otherwise known as the National Report Card, showed decreases in math and reading for nine-year-olds not seen in 20 years, she had plenty to say.

When the Wall Street Journal published a critical opinion piece on her role in this decline, she responded with the following:

“Rather than divide and distract, politicians of all stripes should focus on what children need, from reading, math, and music to mental health support and pathways to careers and colleges.”

Again, I think most parents would agree with you there, Randi. However, politicians and folks in your position have done little to advance any of those areas. As Ms. Godwin rightly points out, the decline in ACT scores is a “…worrisome trend that began long before the disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic, and has persisted.”

But what has Randi been up to recently? Visiting Ukraine, of course, to see the conditions for Ukrainian students.

She said in a video of the Ukrainian education system:

“The schools are closed, children are learning remotely in bunkers right now!”

That’s funny because it wasn’t that long ago you did everything you could to keep American children in remote learning, and we weren’t even at war. Or were we? 

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USAF Retired, Bronze Star recipient, outspoken veteran advocate. Hot mess mom to two monsters and wife to equal parts... More about Kathleen J. Anderson

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