National ACT scores for Class of 2018 worst in decades, officials say

Officials with the ACT college entrance exam sounded an alarm Tuesday about declining scores in the United States, saying Class of 2018 graduates’ average ACT math score dropped to the lowest level in more than 20 years, at 20.5.

Another measure, the percentage of students hitting ACT’s “college readiness benchmark” in math, hit its lowest mark in 14 years. Math readiness was on an upswing from the early 2000s to 2012, according to ACT, but it has gradually declined since then.

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“The negative trend in math readiness is a red flag for our country, given the growing importance of math and science skills in the increasingly tech-driven U.S. and global job market,” said ACT CEO Marten Roorda. “It is vital that we turn this trend around for the next generation and make sure students are learning the math skills they need for success in college and career.”

Ohio scores for the Class of 2018 are more difficult to compare because this was the first class where the state paid for all students to take the exam. That means thousands of largely non-college-bound students who were not tested in the past were tested last year.

That sent Ohio’s participation rate from 75 percent to 100 percent, but dipped Ohio’s average composite score from 22.0 to 20.3. Of the 19 states like Ohio where 98 to 100 percent of students took the test, Ohio tied for fourth with that composite score of 20.3. Those states’ averages ranged from 17.7 in Nevada to 21.3 in Minnesota.

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The national score drops were not due to the same phenomenon. Ohio and Nebraska had all students take the test for the first time with the Class of 2018, but Colorado and Illinois did the reverse, ending mandatory testing.

National ACT participation for the Class of 2018 was down for the second year in a row, at 1.91 million, after hitting a peak of 2.09 million in the Class of 2016. About 55 percent of all students in the class of 2018 nationally took the ACT at some point from sophomore to senior year.

Other national findings

College readiness in English has also been trending down the past several years, according to ACT, dropping from 64 percent in 2015 to 60 percent this year, the lowest level since the benchmarks were introduced.

The average ACT composite score nationally has stayed in a narrow range the past five years — 21.0 for the Classes of 2014, 2015 and 2017, and 20.8 for the Classes of 2016 and 2018. Like math, science scores for the Class of 2018 were at their lowest mark in that five-year span.

Composite scores dropped from last year in every demographic group except Asian students, whose average rose from 24.3 to 24.5. White students averaged 22.2, Hispanic students averaged 18.8 and black students averaged 16.9. Female students made up 52 percent of test-takers and averaged a 20.9, while male students averaged 20.8.

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Students who reported taking solid core course pathways— four years of English and at least three years of math, social studies, and natural science — posted composite and subject scores about 3 points higher than students who did not take all of those core courses, according to ACT officials.

But that leads to a chicken and egg question — did they score better because they took those courses, or did some students not take those courses because they were already struggling academic performers?

Less than 0.2 percent of Class of 2018 test takers earned a “perfect” composite score of 36 on the ACT— 3,741 out of 1,914,817. A fairly similar number, again just less than 0.2 percent, or one in 500, scored in single digits. Just over 9 percent scored 30 or higher.

Statewide average scores were as high as 25.6 in Connecticut and Massachusetts, where only a quarter of students — most college-bound — took the test.

Other Ohio findings

In Ohio, 55 percent of Ohioans in the Class of 2018 met the ACT College Readiness Benchmark in English, while 43 percent did so in reading, 38 percent in math and 35 percent in science. About 25 percent met the benchmarks in all four subjects.

ACT officials said there was a notable increase of 2018 Ohio graduates who scored at the 90th percentile or higher, compared to 2017 graduates.

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In order of prevalence, the five most commonly indicated college majors of interest for 2018 Ohio graduates were undecided, nursing, medicine/pre-medicine, business administration/management and mechanical engineering.

For Ohio’s 2018 ACT-tested graduates, the top five schools to which scores were sent were Ohio State, the University of Cincinnati, Kent State, Ohio University and Bowling Green. The top three out-of-state schools where scores were sent were the University of Kentucky, Northern Kentucky University and the University of Michigan.

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