In a shocking turn of events, the ACT, the organization responsible for administering the college admissions test, has reported that students’ ACT scores have hit a record low, marking a more than 30-year decline. This alarming trend comes at a time when universities are considering dropping admission testing requirements altogether, signaling a seismic shift in the college admissions landscape.
High school students’ ACT scores have been on a downward spiral for six consecutive years, painting a bleak picture of academic preparedness among the nation’s youth. This year, approximately 1.4 million students took the test, representing an increase from the previous year. However, the average composite score declined by 0.3 points compared to 2022.
A closer look at the subject-specific scores reveals a similar pattern. The average scores for mathematics, English, reading, and science all experienced a decline, with drops of 0.3 points each. These scores fell below the ACT College Readiness Benchmarks, which are the minimum scores required for students to have a “high probability” of success in a college-level course.
Perhaps the most concerning aspect of this decline is the number of students failing to meet college readiness benchmarks. According to ACT, a staggering four in 10 high school seniors failed to meet any of the college readiness benchmarks this year. In particular, an alarming 70% of students fell short in meeting mathematics standards.
Furthermore, the percentage of students meeting all four benchmarks dropped by 1.3 percentage points, from 22.1% in 2022 to 20.8% in 2023. On the other hand, the percentage of students failing to meet any benchmarks increased by 1.7 percentage points, rising from 41.6% in 2022 to 43.3% in 2023. These statistics highlight a worrisome trend that demands immediate attention and action.
ACT CEO Janet Godwin points out that the decline in ACT scores is indicative of systemic problems in the education system. Despite rising student GPAs and self-perceived preparedness, graduates are not adequately equipped for postsecondary success in college and career. She emphasizes that addressing these issues requires sustained action and support at the policy level, extending beyond the responsibility of teachers and principals alone
The class of 2023, who experienced the lowest ACT scores, faced additional challenges due to the government shutdowns and prolonged school closures. These disruptions in learning undoubtedly impacted students’ academic progress and performance.
As ACT scores continue to plummet, universities are reevaluating their admissions requirements. A growing number of institutions have embraced test-optional admissions, signaling a departure from traditional reliance on standardized tests. Notable universities, including Columbia University, Dartmouth College, Harvard University, New York University, Princeton University, Stanford University, and Yale University, have dropped the requirement for the 2021-2022 application cycle.
Columbia University made headlines when it announced its decision to permanently remove SAT and ACT testing requirements, becoming the first Ivy League school to do so. The State University of New York also followed suit, eliminating the need for standardized testing for admissions. These changes reflect a broader shift towards a more holistic approach to evaluating applicants, focusing on their overall academic achievements and personal qualities.
The record-low ACT scores and the growing number of universities adopting test-optional admissions standards underscore the need for a comprehensive reevaluation of the college admissions process. The declining trend in student performance raises concerns about the adequacy of high school education and the readiness of graduates for college-level coursework. It is imperative that policymakers, educators, and institutions work collaboratively to address these systemic issues and ensure that students are adequately prepared for postsecondary success.
As universities continue to explore alternative methods of assessing applicants, the college admissions landscape is undergoing a significant transformation. The elimination of standardized testing requirements opens doors for a more diverse pool of students, taking into account their unique talents, experiences, and potential. However, this shift also poses challenges in maintaining fairness and objectivity in the admissions process.