U.S. High School Graduating Class Trends

More Than 18 Million Students Tested Between 2012 and 2021

As a national leader in assessment, research, and data, ACT releases its annual snapshot of the 2021 ACT-tested graduating class. Using the data visualization tools and resources, individuals can compare college and career readiness trends across the past ten years, including student performance relative to ACT College Readiness and STEM Benchmarks.

U.S. High School Graduating Class Data

This cohort reflects the first graduating class to experience the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on their learning experience. ACT puts forth this data, in addition to our extensive COVID-19 related research, to ensure that school systems and states can make informed decisions that will improve outcomes for their students and families. ACT uses a holistic view and our consistent and reliable historical information to provide greater context and visibility as educators make critical decisions for future cohorts of students.

Highlights From This Year’s Data

  • Approximately 1.3 million students in the U.S. high school graduating class of 2021 took the ACT test, an estimated 35 percent of graduates nationwide.
  • The national average Composite score for the graduating class of 2021 is 20.3, down from 20.6 for the graduating class of 2020.
  • Thirty-two percent of the ACT-tested graduating class took the ACT more than once, as compared to 41 percent for the 2020 cohort.
  • Students in this class who tested more than once received an ACT Superscore, which reflected their best subject test scores across multiple test attempts. The average ACT Superscore for students testing multiple times is 24.2.
  • Thirty-six percent of ACT-tested graduates in the class of 2021 met at least three out of four ACT College Readiness Benchmarks (English, reading, math, and science).

Data Visualization Tool

Data Visualization Tool

The data visualization tool presented below contains data for ACT-tested high school graduating seniors from 2012 through 2021—more than 18 million students—to allow users to quickly view state and national trends across multiple dimensions and outcomes.

The interactive tool contains three views, or data visualization options, for exploring the data. Users can move between the views using the tabs provided at the top. The Class Composition/Makeup view shows distributional trends—percentages—of students falling into specific subgroups, which the user selects. The Class Averages and Benchmark Percents view provides a look at student achievement over time, by user-selected characteristics and subgroup populations. The Score Distributions view shows the number and cumulative percent of student scores on the ACT, with options to examine the distribution of average ACT Composite scores, STEM and ELA scores, and scores on each subject test. Each view allows the user to select one or more states to compare against another one or more states; the default view shows the national population.

Because interpretation of graduating class composition and achievement levels are impacted by the percentage of graduates taking the ACT, a “WICHE-Estimated Overall Percent Tested” bar is included below the first two views.

For information about accessing this tool using a keyboard, please see Tableau's help page for keyboard navigation.

Tableau Walkthrough Video


Tableau Data View

Note: ACT recommends using caution before comparing dissimilar populations. For example, a state testing 100 percent of its graduating class would be expected to have a lower average Composite score than a state where only 50 percent of students (presumably those more likely to be going to college) have taken the ACT. Even trends over time can be impacted in this manner, as a state begins or ends “census” testing.

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, ACT cautions users from making comparisons about this graduating class to previous cohorts or inferring the magnitude of the impact of COVID-related school disruptions on student learning from these data. ACT’s research on pandemic-era score declines has focused on school-day testing programs, including PreACT, ACT Aspire, and ACT state and district testing.

Explore Additional Datasets

  • Year-to-Year Average ACT Composite Score Changes
  • ACT Composite and ACT Superscore Score Distributions
  • Career Pathway Opportunities
  • Industry Sector Benchmarks and Wages
  • Enrollment, Retention, and Transfer Behaviors