Achievement levels on the ACT® test went down this year compared to last year among U.S. high school graduates, but the decline was driven by a significant increase in the number and percentage of students who took the exam. Those findings are reported in The Condition of College & Career Readiness 2016, ACT’s annual score report, which was released today.
Close to two-thirds (64 percent) of 2016 graduating seniors—nearly 2.1 million students—took the ACT, an all-time high. That compares to 59 percent of graduates last year and 52 percent in 2012.
Among those 2016 ACT-tested graduates, 38 percent met the ACT College Readiness Benchmarks in at least three of the four core subject areas tested (English, math, reading and science), indicating they have strong readiness for college coursework. This is a decrease from 40 percent in 2015. In contrast, 34 percent of 2016 graduates, an increase from 31 percent in 2015, did not meet any of the four benchmarks, suggesting they are likely to struggle in first-year college courses.
This decline in overall readiness can be explained, in large part, by the addition this year of seven more states that funded the ACT for all 11th graders as part of their statewide testing programs. Scores went down significantly in each of those seven states, as expected, helping to drive the national average down. In contrast, 22 other states saw score increases this year, and another eight states saw no change. A total of 20 states administered the ACT to all public school graduates in this year’s class.
“This year’s ACT-tested class is more representative of the student population than any we’ve ever had,” said ACT Chief Executive Officer Marten Roorda. “We have likely added many more underrepresented students who may not have been preparing to go to college. In a situation such as this, it’s not at all surprising that overall achievement levels went down. Research clearly shows that scores initially decrease when states adopt the ACT for all students, but access and opportunities increase.”
The increase in the number of graduates tested is pronounced among underserved minority groups, particularly Hispanic students (up by 44 percent since 2012) and African American students (up by 23 percent). College readiness levels for both of those
groups have remained fairly steady over this period, despite the substantial growth in numbers. Nationally, ACT’s data have identified nearly 5,000 more Hispanic graduates this year than last year who were ready for success in college coursework based on their attainment of ACT benchmarks.
Nevertheless, achievement gaps between Hispanic and African American students and their white and Asian American counterparts remain substantial. While 60 percent of Asian American students and 49 percent of white students showed strong readiness for college coursework, meeting three or more of the ACT benchmarks, just 23 percent of Hispanic students and only 11 percent of African American students earned that same level of achievement.
“Last year, ACT issued a call to action, urging educators and policymakers to work to improve the education system as a whole,” said Roorda. “While the drop in scores this year is not indicative of lower achievement overall, we are still seeing far too many students left behind by the nation’s education system. When a third of high school graduates are not well prepared in any of the core subject areas, college and career readiness remains a significant problem that must be addressed. It is critical that we continue to work hard to improve.”
Among the other key findings from this year’s ACT data are the following:
• Since 2012, students meeting the new ACT College Readiness Benchmark in STEM—a combined measure of math and science designed to predict readiness for success in STEM majors in college—have earned significantly higher science scores, while their math scores have remained flat.
• The achievement gap between higher and lower income students may be growing. Since 2013, average ACT scores for students with a family income of $80,000 or higher have increased slightly, while average scores for students earning lower than that amount have decreased.
• More than 600,000 fee waivers for the ACT were awarded to low-income students during the 2015-2016 school year, but around a fourth of those students did not show up to test. This represents lost opportunities for low-income students.
• The percentage of African American and Hispanic students who took the ACT for the first time in their junior year or earlier, rather than waiting until their senior year, has grown along with the number of states administering the ACT to all 11th graders. This increases the college and scholarship opportunities to which those students may be exposed.
• The majority (57 percent) of 2016 graduates took the ACT test only once.
• Health sciences/technologies remains the most popular group of college major/career choices among graduates.
About the ACT
The ACT is a curriculum-based achievement test that measures the skills taught in schools and deemed important for success in first-year college courses. The content of the ACT is informed by results of the ACT National Curriculum Survey®, conducted every three to four years among thousands of elementary, middle and high school teachers and instructors of first-year college courses across the United States. The data obtained in the survey allow ACT to ensure that its assessments measure the skills most important for success after high school.
ACT research shows that students who meet the ACT College Readiness Benchmarks are more likely to persist in college and earn a degree than those who don’t. The benchmarks specify the minimum score students must earn on each of the four ACT subject tests to have about a 75 percent chance of earning a grade of C or higher and a 50 percent chance of earning a B or higher in a typical credit-bearing first-year college course in that subject area.
The national and state ACT Condition of College & Career Readiness 2016 reports can be viewed and downloaded for free on the ACT website at: www.act.org/conditionreport2016
Note: For district- or school-specific score results, please contact the district office or your state department of education.