ACT Class of 2020

By Jim Gaines

The average composite ACT score for Kentucky seniors in both public and private high schools fell by three-tenths of a point, from 19.8 in the 2018-2019 school year to 19.5 in 2019-2020, according to the annual Graduating Class Report released by ACT.

This year, the average composite score for the nearly 1.7 million students who took the ACT likewise dropped from 20.7 to 20.6. This is the third consecutive year in which the national score has decreased, according to ACT.

Among the 15 states that tested 100% of graduating seniors, Kentucky’s average composite score ranked above eight states, including Tennessee. The ACT is a curriculum-based measure of college readiness, testing academic achievement in English, math, reading and science. Kentucky high school students are required to take a college admissions exam, and the ACT was the test selected by the state for the past two school years.

Just under half of 2020’s graduating seniors took the ACT nationwide. In Kentucky, 50,938 students took the ACT this year, of which 46,602 attended public schools.

The data provided in this release includes 2020 graduates who took the ACT as sophomores, juniors or seniors under standard- or extended-time conditions and achieved a college reportable composite score. The latest test information is used in the report for students testing more than once.

These data do not represent the Kentucky public school juniors administered statewide. Due to COVID-19, schools were closed in the middle of ACT statewide testing and not all juniors had the opportunity to test. Eligible juniors are testing now and results will be shared publicly once they are returned to the state.

“While COVID-19 affected students and education systems in many ways in the spring of 2020, it is not anticipated that ACT scores for the 2020 graduating class were impacted in a substantive way by the safety measures and responses to COVID-19,” ACT announced. “It is too early to determine the ways in which COVID-19 may impact the testing rates and average scores of future graduating classes.”

For Kentucky public school students only, the average composite score fell from 19.5 to 19.1.

“Each year, test data for a school, district and the state represent a different cohort of students,” the testing firm’s state profile report said. “ACT encourages educators to focus on trends (3, 5, 10 years), not year-to-year changes. Such changes can represent normal – even expected – fluctuations. On the other hand, trend lines offer more insight into what is happening in a school, district, or the state.

“The focus should be on the number and percentage of students who met or exceeded ACT’s College Readiness Benchmark Scores, a measure that is much more meaningful and understandable than an average composite score for a group of students.”

ACT research has shown that students who take the testing firm’s recommended curriculum of four years of English and three years each of math, science and social studies are more likely to be ready for college than those who don’t.

The percentage of Kentucky seniors meeting three or four of the four benchmarks has decreased from 28% to 27%. Only 17% hit all four. Nationwide, 26% of those who took the ACT met all four college readiness benchmarks, and the percentage of students nationally who met at least three of four benchmarks remained steady this year at 37%.

In Kentucky, 50% of students met the English benchmark, with 35% meeting the reading benchmark, 25% math and 27% science.

In Kentucky, 35% of students who took three or more years of math, beyond Algebra I and II and Geometry, were judged to be college ready. The same was true of 33% who took at least three years of science. Both of those measures were well above the college-ready percentage of students who didn’t take the recommended type or number of courses.

ACT found that college readiness remains lower for students from underserved populations, such as traditionally underserved minorities, low-income students and first-generation college students. A majority of underserved students continue to meet none or just one of the four college readiness benchmarks.

Among Kentucky students ACT scores were down this year across every ethnic group tracked. White students, who made up more than two-thirds of those taking the test, saw average scores decline from 20.2 to 19.9.

Black students, the second-largest group, saw average scores drop from 16.6 to 16.1. Scores for Latino students, the third most numerous, fell from 18.1 to 17.6.