The national average ACT composite score dropped to 19.5 out of a maximum score of 36 for the Class of 2023, according to data released by the testing organization.
Although the decline is not as significant as it was in 2022, when the average score dipped below 20 for the first time since 1991, this is the sixth consecutive year of a decline.
What’s more, the proportion of students in the Class of 2023 that didn’t meet any of the ACT’s college-readiness benchmarks is higher than ever before. Only 21 percent of all students met every benchmark, in math, science, reading and English, while 43 percent met none of the benchmarks, according to the data.
“Even as student GPAs continue to rise and students report that they feel prepared to be successful in college, the hard truth is that we are not doing enough to ensure that graduates are truly ready for postsecondary success in college and career,” ACT CEO Janet Godwin said. “These systemic problems require sustained action and support at the policy level. This is not up to teachers and principals alone—it is a shared national priority and imperative.”
The 0.3-point score decline from 2022 to 2023 was slightly smaller than the 0.5-point drop from 2021 to 2022. Roughly 1.4 million high school seniors took the ACT test in 2023, an increase of about 40,000 over the 2022 graduating class, but still down from about 1.7 million in 2020.
The scores have become less influential as opposition to and criticism of the ACT and other standardized tests has increased. The tests have been blamed for reinforcing racial inequities in college admissions, and widespread problems at testing centers administering the exam during the pandemic further prompted a majority of colleges to institute test-optional admissions policies. Research has also consistently shown that high school GPA is a better indicator of college success than standardized tests.