With a 20.9 composite average, the 2013 ACT scores  are the lowest they’ve been in five years, with the biggest drops occurring in the English and reading sections.
The high school class of 2013’s composite average is down 0.2 points from 21.1 last year , and English and reading scores (averaging 20.2 and 21.1) are down 0.3 and 0.2 points, respectively.
“The diversity of students in the pool continues to grow, which is a good thing. The aspirations of those students continues to rise, which is a good thing,” ACT President Jon Erickson said. “But the performance of the students still leaves something to be desired.”
More students are taking the exam -- some of whom are required by schools to do so but have no collegiate aspirations -- which accounts in part for the lower scores, Erickson said. ACT also made some logistical changes this year: updating the reading and science benchmarks, and including scores of students who were accommodated with extra time.
“I’m kind of looking at this as a new normal,” he said, “a new baseline.”
The score decline in composite average as well as for each individual benchmark -- English, reading, mathematics and science – was steeper among students who did not complete a high school core curriculum comprising four years of English and three years of each other benchmark subject.
Twenty-six percent of tested students – one percentage point higher than last year – met all four subject benchmarks, which indicate a 50 percent chance of making a B grade or 75 percent chance of a C grade in corresponding college courses. The majority of students (64 percent) met the English benchmark, while 44 percent met reading and/or math benchmarks and 36 percent made it in science.
Thirty-one percent of students, meanwhile, did not meet a single benchmark. That figure is up three percentage points from last year.
“We know we’ve got a ways to go to both improve the rigor of courses across the country, but also the professional development of teachers, the awareness of parents, engagement of students in school, and indicators of whether students are on track or not with intervention,” Erickson said, adding better remediation and teacher education for the higher ed crowd. “Just standards alone is not enough.”
Racial and ethnic gaps have long been apparent in the ACT, and while disparities in average composite scores were significantly more pronounced this year than last, since 2009, scores by ethnic group have mostly stayed stable or climbed slightly. The exception is American Indian students, whose composite scores fell from 18.9 to 18.0 over the four years. While black students' scores rose slightly in recent years before falling again this year, they have consistently been the lowest.
Still, this year's scores ranged from an average of 16.9 among black students to 23.5 for Asian students.