U.S. High School Graduating Class Trends

Data Based on More Than 18 Million Students

Interactive data visualization tools enable exploration of trends in ACT-tested graduating class performance relative to college and career readiness, including how students are performing compared to ACT College Readiness Benchmarks, STEM Benchmarks, and foundational work readiness skills. Quickly discern how specific student populations perform by core subjects and core curriculum taken.

U.S. High School Graduating Class Data

ACT’s annual release of data on the progress of ACT-tested high school graduates provides essential information on college and career readiness so students, parents, educators, and other stakeholders can make informed decisions that will improve outcomes. We take a holistic view and use consistent and reliable historical information so that individuals and institutions have better context to make critical decisions about the journey students have undertaken.

Highlights From This Year’s Data

  • Approximately 1.67 million students in the US high school graduating class of 2020 took the ACT test, an estimated 49% of
    graduates nationwide.
  • The national average Composite score for the graduating class of 2020 is 20.6.
  • Thirty-seven percent of ACT-tested graduates in the class of 2020 met at least three out of four ACT College Readiness Benchmarks (English, reading, math, and science).

Jump to Data Visualization Tool

What Now?

Promising Practices of Exemplary High Schools

ACT identified high schools across the country whose graduates outperformed expectations on the ACT. This report highlights promising practices shared by some 2020 exemplary high schools that other schools and districts may wish to adopt.

ACT-Hosted Webinar

Promising Practices: Using Data and Rigorous Coursework to Help Students Navigate College and Career

Features representatives from a diverse group of exemplary high schools sharing the ways in which they are helping their students find success. It also provides a look at year-over-year trends and the critical need for students to have support in navigating high school and their transition to postsecondary education and career, including a high school core curriculum that includes rigorous coursework.

Data Visualization Tool

To enhance the usability of our data, we are developing new and interactive reporting tools. The data visualization tool presented below contains data for ACT-tested high school graduating seniors from 2011 through 2020—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.

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