ACT Scores Drop as More Take Test

Large gaps remain evident when looking at average scores by racial and ethnic group.

August 24, 2016

Average ACT scores are down this year. ACT officials attribute the drop to the increasing percentage of high school seniors who have taken the test.

The average composite score for those who graduated from high school this year was 20.8, down 0.2 points from last year and representing a five-year low. (The highest possible score on each part of the ACT is 36, and the composite is an average of the four scores.) ACT data show that 64 percent of high school seniors in the Class of 2016 took the ACT this year, up from 59 percent last year and 52 percent in 2012. Generally, when a larger share of students take a test -- in some cases encouraged by state requirements more than the students necessarily being college ready -- scores go down. Score drops were the largest in states that have just started to require all students to take the ACT.

Average ACT Scores and Number Tested, 2012-2016

Year Number English Math Reading Science Composite
2012 1,666,017 20.5 21.1 21.3 20.9 21.1
2013 1,799,243 20.2 20.9 21.1 20.7 20.9
2014 1,845,787 20.3 20.9 21.3 20.8 21.0
2015 1,924,436 20.4 20.8 21.4 20.9 21.0
2016 2,090,342 20.1 20.6 21.3 20.8 20.8

ACT has benchmarks for predicting college success for each section of the test. These too are showing declines.

This year, 38 percent of test takers met the benchmarks in at least three of the four subject areas tested (English, math, reading and science), which according to ACT shows that they have "strong readiness for college course work." That's down from 40 percent in 2015. The percentage of test takers who did not meet any of the benchmarks increased to 34 percent from 31 percent.

Many educators have worried about the lingering (and in some cases growing) gaps among different racial and ethnic groups on the ACT and also on the SAT (average scores for which won't be released until next month).

In the last five years, only the ACT scores of Asian-Americans (on average) have improved, while other groups have remained level or dropped. The average scores of Asian-American test takers are higher than those of all other groups on each of the four parts of the ACT.

ACT Score Average by Race and Ethnicity, 2016

Group English Math Reading Science Composite
Black 15.8 17.0 17.4 17.2 17.0
Native American 16.3 17.7 18.2 18.1 17.7
White 21.9 21.7 22.8 22.1 22.2
Latino 17.6 18.8 19.2 18.9 18.7
Asian 23.3 25.0 23.7 23.6 24.0
Native Hawaiian 17.4 18.9 18.9 18.6 18.6
Two or more 20.4 20.5 21.6 20.9 21.0
No response 19.3 20.0 20.6 20.0 20.1


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