State’s 18.6 composite ACT score lags nation’s 19.5

An ACT Assessment test is shown in this April 1, 2014, file photo. The ACT Assessment differs from the ACT Aspire, which is a broader test that is both practice for the ACT Assessment but also an evaluation of how students are meeting standards of the Every Student Succeeds Act.
An ACT Assessment test is shown in this April 1, 2014, file photo. The ACT Assessment differs from the ACT Aspire, which is a broader test that is both practice for the ACT Assessment but also an evaluation of how students are meeting standards of the Every Student Succeeds Act.


Students in Arkansas' high school Class of 2023 earned a composite score of 18.6 on the ACT college entrance exam, down 0.2 point from the 18.8 earned by the state's previous Class of 2022 on the exams that are scored from 1 to 36.

The state's 18.6 composite score for the members of the Class of 2023 -- who were ninth-graders when covid-19 disrupted education nationwide -- is the lowest in at least 10 years. In 2014 and again in 2015, the composite score for the state was 20.4 on the 1 to 36 scale.

Additionally, the Arkansas composite -- made up of English, math, reading and science results -- remained below the national composite, which has also been declining.

The national composite is 19.5 for the Class of 2023. That national composite is down from 19.8 in the preceding high school graduating class after being as high as 21 in both 2014 and 2015.

"This is the sixth consecutive year of declines in average scores, with average scores declining in every academic subject," Janet Godwin, ACT chief executive officer, said in releasing the national and state-by-state results on Wednesday.

"We are also continuing to see a rise in the number of seniors leaving high school without meeting any of the college readiness benchmarks, even as student [grade point averages] continue to rise and students report that they feel prepared to be successful in college."

Godwin said a sustained response to the drop in achievement must be a national priority, and not left just to teachers and principals to resolve.

"The hard truth is that we are not doing enough to ensure that graduates are truly ready for post-secondary success in college and career," she said.

Kimberly Mundell, a spokesperson for the Arkansas Division of Elementary and Secondary Education, said Wednesday that the ACT results are not surprising.

"The downward trend mirrors the trend seen in other data and is another indicator of why the LEARNS Act was needed," Mundell said in referencing Act 237 of 2023 that overhauls public education.

"Through the LEARNS Act, literacy coaches are being deployed around the state, tutoring grants will be available to parents, students will have the ability to obtain a career diploma, and teacher starting salaries are among the highest in the nation. With this multifaceted approach to education, we anticipate improved student learning in the future," she said.

Arkansas' 31,642 Class of 2023 test-takers earned an average:

18 on the English portion of the test, down from 18.3 the previous year and below the 18.6 earned nationally.

17.8 on the math section, down from 18.1 previously in Arkansas and 19 nationally.

19 on the reading test, down from 19.2 for Arkansas' Class of 2022 and 20.1 nationally.

18.9 in science, down from 19.1 previously and under the 19.6 earned nationally.

The total 31,642 of the state's newly minted high school graduates who took the ACT exam made up about 96% of the graduating class, according to ACT Inc., the test producer.

ACT also reports yearly on the percentages of test-takers who meet "benchmarks" in each subject area. The benchmark score is the minimum ACT test score required for students to have a high probability of success in credit-bearing first-year college courses.

ACT research shows that students meeting the benchmark score on a test have a 50% change of earning a B or better and a 75 % chance of earning a C or better in a corresponding college course.

In Arkansas, 48 % of the Class of 2023 test-takers met the benchmark achievement level in English but only 21% did the same in math, 33% in reading and 25% in science.

Overall, 14 % of Arkansas test-takers met the benchmarks in all four subjects. Nationally that was 21%, while 43% nationally met none of the benchmark scores -- up from 41.6% in 2022.

The ACT benchmark score on the English test is 18; math, 22; reading, 22; and science is at least 23.