ACT Scores Are Up

But gaps remain, based on levels of preparedness and by race and ethnicity.

September 7, 2017

ACT scores are up this year, but the scores of black and Latino students and those who did not complete recommended college preparatory courses remain far behind those of other students.

Data released today cover those who graduated from high school this year, many of whom are now enrolling in college. The College Board releases data on SAT score a little later than the ACT does, and so those statistics are not yet available.

This year the average composite score on the ACT was 21.0, up from 20.8 a year ago. (The maximum score on each part of the exam, and on the composite, is 36.)

Last year, ACT officials attributed a decline of 0.2 points in the composition score to a large increase in the number of students taking the ACT. Generally, such increases, often associated with states requiring test taking, bring in many who may not be prepared for college-level work or a test of one's potential for college-level work. This year, ACT reported a slight decline in the number of test takers.

Average ACT Scores, 2013-17

Year English Mathematics Reading Science Composite
2013 20.2 20.9 21.1 20.7 20.9
2014 20.3 20.9 21.3 20.8 21.0
2015 20.4 20.8 21.4 20.9 21.0
2016 20.1 20.6 21.3 20.8 20.8
2017 20.3 20.7 21.4 21.0 21.0

A major theme of the ACT's annual reports is that preparation is key to doing well on the exams, and that significant gaps exist based on wealth, race and other factors.

For example, ACT defines "underserved" students (who represent 46 percent of those who took the test) as students who would be first generation in their family to attend college, who come from low-income families or who are from a minority race or ethnicity.

Of those who match all three of those criteria, only 9 percent showed "strong readiness" for college-level work, based on course preparation and ACT scores.

This year's data show large gaps by race and ethnicity, although members of all racial and ethnic groups perform better on the ACT if they took core courses in high school to prepare for college. Still, Asian students who did not take core courses did better on the ACT than black and Latino students who did take core courses.

Figure 2.1: Average ACT Composite Scores by Race and Core Curriculum Status. Bar chart shows average composite scores, broken down by those who took core courses and those who did not, for all students, black/African-American students, American Indian/Alaska Native students, white students, Hispanic students, Asian students, Native Hawaiian/other Pacific Islander students, and students of two or more races.

Share Article

Scott Jaschik

Scott Jaschik, Editor, is one of the three founders of Inside Higher Ed. With Doug Lederman, he leads the editorial operations of Inside Higher Ed, overseeing news content, opinion pieces, career advice, blogs and other features. Scott is a leading voice on higher education issues, quoted regularly in publications nationwide, and publishing articles on colleges in publications such as The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Washington Post, Salon, and elsewhere. He has been a judge or screener for the National Magazine Awards, the Online Journalism Awards, the Folio Editorial Excellence Awards, and the Education Writers Association Awards. Scott served as a mentor in the community college fellowship program of the Hechinger Institute on Education and the Media, of Teachers College, Columbia University. He is a member of the board of the Education Writers Association. From 1999-2003, Scott was editor of The Chronicle of Higher Education. Scott grew up in Rochester, N.Y., and graduated from Cornell University in 1985. He lives in Washington.

Back to Top