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The national average composite score on the ACT for the high school Class of 2022 was 19.8, the lowest average score in more than three decades, according to data released Wednesday by ACT. It is the first time since 1991 that the average composite score was below 20. (The maximum score on the ACT is 36.)

“This is the fifth consecutive year of declines in average scores, a worrisome trend that began long before the disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic and has persisted,” said ACT CEO Janet Godwin.

The SAT also saw scores fall this year. The 2022 average score was 1050, compared to 1060 for the Class of 2021.

While more people took either of the exams this year, their numbers were still fewer than in 2020, the last year before students would have taken the tests before the pandemic struck. The lost test takers were also people who were not paying the College Board and ACT for tests.

This year, 1,349,644 students took the ACT, up from 1,295,349 last year and down from 1,670,497 in 2020.

More students also took the SAT this year, 1,737,678, compared to 1,509,133 last year. In 2020, 2,198,460 students took the SAT.

Of course, during pandemic, and since, most colleges that previously required one of the exams stopped doing so. And during 2021, many students who had signed up to take the tests were unable to do so because many testing centers canceled on them due to concerns about COVID-19.

Testing experts have cautioned against making too many comparisons of the scores from one year to the next during the pandemic, noting that it’s difficult to accurately determine who is not taking the exams, with so many students opting not to test.

But even with the questions about who is not taking the exams, the figures show vast differences in the scores of students by race and ethnicity.

The ACT breaks down scores by race and whether the student has completed the core courses in high school that ACT recommends for college preparation.

This year the average score for Asian students who did not complete the core courses was 23.7, and it was 26 for those who did complete them.

The scores of every other racial group who had completed the core were less than 23.7. For white students, it was 22.7, for Black students, it was 17.6, and for Hispanic students, it was 20.

Asian students also dominated on the SAT. The average score for Asian students was 1229, while the average scores for other groups trailed behind. The average for white students was 1098, for Black students it was 926 and for Latinos it was 964.

“At some level, these annual reports are increasingly meaningless because 80 percent of schools no longer require ACT/SAT scores, and about half of applicants don’t submit them,” said Robert Schaeffer, public education director of FairTest: the National Center for Fair and Open Testing.

Schaeffer added, “The overall ACT score decline is hardly surprising given the unprecedented disruptions of education during the past two years and data showing similar trends in other testing programs.”

Godwin of ACT emphasized the dangers of so many students taking the ACT without first taking the recommended college preparatory classes.

“The magnitude of the declines this year is particularly alarming, as we see rapidly growing numbers of seniors leaving high school without meeting the college-readiness benchmark in any of the subjects we measure,” she said. “These declines are not simply a by-product of the pandemic. They are further evidence of longtime systemic failures that were exacerbated by the pandemic. A return to the pre-pandemic status quo would be insufficient and a disservice to students and educators.”

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