In six states, everyone graduating is tested, but not in...

In six states, everyone graduating is tested, but not in New York. Credit: Newsday/Thomas A. Ferrara

Scores on the ACT college admissions test by this year's high school graduates hit their lowest point in more than 30 years nationwide, while New York test-takers scored higher than pre-pandemic years.

The Class of 2022's average ACT composite score was 19.8 out of 36, marking the first time since 1991 that the average score was below 20. The average composite score for students in New York, however, was 25.3, the second highest since 2013. The statewide average was lower than 2021’s 26.3, though that year had the lowest number of students taking the tests.

In the past decade, New York students’ ACT scores in general have risen in all subjects — English, math, reading and science — bucking the national trend of a steady decline.

Rose Babington, senior director for state partnerships for the ACT, said the different trends may be tied to the percentage of students taking the tests. In New York, only 10% of the 2022 graduating class took ACT tests. In Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, Tennessee and Wyoming, everyone graduating is tested. The national average is 36% of graduating students.

That 10% most likely represents “a small, self-selected population of students,” Babington said. “So when we see that smaller group of students testing, knowing that that's a very highly motivated group of students, we do often see higher test scores correlated with that student population.”

But it’s the national trend that presents a more accurate picture, she said.

“It represents more students and represents a lot of those states and districts that are taking a snapshot of every single one of their graduates year over year,” she said. “Not just those students who are testing on their own.”

The test scores, made public in a report Wednesday, show 42% of ACT-tested graduates in the Class of 2022 nationwide met none of the subject benchmarks in English, reading, science and math, which are indicators of how well students are expected to perform in corresponding college courses.

In comparison, 38% of test takers in 2021 failed to meet any of the benchmarks.

ACT scores have declined steadily in recent years. Still, “the magnitude of the declines this year is particularly alarming," ACT CEO Janet Godwin said in a statement. "We see rapidly growing numbers of seniors leaving high school without meeting college-readiness benchmarks in any of the subjects we measure.” 

The report comes amid concerns of learning loss among students because of pandemic-related disruptions. However, the results also offer a lens into systemic inequities in education, in place well before the pandemic shuttered schools and colleges temporarily waived testing requirements.

For example, students without access to rigorous a high school curriculum suffered more setbacks during pandemic disruptions, Babington said. Those students are from rural areas, come from low-income families and are often students of color.

The number of students taking the ACT has declined 30% since 2018, as graduates increasingly forgo college and some universities no longer require admissions tests.

The State University of New York, for example, has suspended SAT/ACT test requirements through the summer of 2024 term.

Standardized tests such as the ACT have faced growing concerns that they're unfair to minority and low-income students, as students with access to expensive test prep or advanced courses often perform better.

“There have been a lot of questions about the validity of these tests and the reliability of the tests for predicting student performance in college,” said Alan Singer, director for social studies education programs at Hofstra University. “One of the things people say is the best predictor of performance on these tests is your parents’ socio-economic status.”

Babington defended the test as a measure of college readiness. “Now more than ever, the last few years have shown us the importance of having high-quality data to help inform how we support students,” she said.

With Dandan Zou and AP

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