U.S. High School Graduating Class Trends

The 'COVID cohort' shaped a new era in education, facing the implications of the global pandemic.

Each year, ACT releases its annual snapshot of the graduating class. Of the nearly 20 million students tested between 2013-2023, the class of 2023 – the COVID cohort – faced unique challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic, affecting the ways in which they learned for their entire high school experience. Use the data visualization tools and resources below to compare college and career readiness trends, including student achievement relative to ACT College Readiness and STEM Benchmarks

U.S. High School Class of 2023 Graduating Class Data

The graduating class of 2023’s entire high school experience was disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. This “COVID cohort” of students experienced significant disruption as they learned in online and hybrid environments throughout their high school experience, distinguishing them from prior graduating classes. 

Each year, ACT releases graduating class data aimed at helping educators and district and state leaders make informed decisions to better serve students and families. This reliable historical data, along with ACT’s holistic approach, offers essential context in planning for future student cohorts. 

Key Findings From This Year’s Data

  • Roughly 1.4 million high school seniors took the ACT test, an increase over the 2022 graduating class.
  • The average Composite score declined by 0.3 points, from 19.8 in 2022 to 19.5 in 2023. 
  • Between 2022 and 2023, average English scores declined 0.4 points (from 19.0 to 18.6), average mathematics scores declined 0.3 points (from 19.3 to 19.0), average reading scores declined 0.3 points (from 20.4 to 20.1), and average science scores declined 0.3 points (from 19.9 to 19.6).
  • The percentage of students meeting all four benchmarks dropped 1.3 percentage points, from 22.1% of students in 2022 to 20.8% of students in 2023, whereas the percentage of students meeting no benchmarks increased by 1.7 percentage points, from 41.6% in 2022 to 43.3% in 2023.
  • Participation in the ACT State and District Testing program continued to grow in the 2022-2023 academic year. For the 2023 graduating class, 60% of students tested at least once through the program. The ACT State and District Testing program provides students the opportunity to earn college-reportable ACT scores by taking the test in their own classrooms during regular school hours.

Data Visualization Tool


COVID Cohort

Learn more about what the COVID cohort told ACT about their high school experiences, including their views on how the pandemic influenced college and career choices, as well their perceptions of the unexpected challenges they faced in the midst of the pandemic. This research on the COVID cohort’s experiences during the pandemic provides critical insights into the unique challenges faced by the class of 2023. For instance, nearly 50% of these students indicated that the pandemic affected their future education or career plans and 85% reported that their academic performance suffered due to pandemic disruptions.

Data Visualization Tool

The data visualization tool contains data for ACT-tested high school graduating seniors from 2013 through 2023 — more than 20 million students. The tool allows users to quickly view state and national trends across multiple dimensions and outcomes.

The interactive tool contains three views for exploring the data, using the tabs at the top. The Class Composition/Makeup view shows distribution trends of students falling into specific subgroups. The Class Averages and Benchmark Percentages 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 percentages of student scores on the ACT. Users can select one or more states to compare against other states; the default view shows the national population.

Because interpretation of graduating class composition and achievement levels is affected by the percentage of graduates taking the test, users can also view the percentage of overall students tested, as estimated by Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education.

For information about accessing and navigating this tool using a keyboard, please see the dashboard help page.

Data View

Note: ACT advises discretion when comparing dissimilar populations. Learn about nuances for interpreting the data.

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.