Nationwide, American College Test (ACT) scores are down, but Georgia high-school students are defying the trend and scoring higher than the national average, according to new data.
Peach State students’ average composite score on all components of the college-entrance examination in 2021 is 22.6, compared with a 20.3-point average U.S. score—the lowest national mean in more than a decade. (The highest score someone can achieve on the ACT is 36.) This is the fifth year in a row when Georgians exceeded the national average ACT score.
About 1.7 million high-schoolers take the ACT each year, while another 2.2 million others take the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) offered by the College Board.
The average composite score achieved by Georgia students rose nearly a full point since last year. In none of the subjects covered by the ACT (English, mathematics, reading and science) did the state’s students improve their scores by less than 0.8 points. Georgians surpassed the average American score by more than two points on all sections of the test.
The scores are based on 2021 high-school graduates who took the exam at some point between 10th grade and 12th grade. While the number of students in the graduating class of 2021 who took the ACT fell both in Georgia and across America—decreases broadly attributed to the COVID pandemic and SAT/ACT score-requirement waivers in Georgia and other states—participant demographics remained stable, according to the state Department of Education.
“Georgia’s students continue to achieve gains on the ACT and other national exams, and I am enormously proud of them,” state School Superintendent Richard Woods said in a statement. “Despite the impact of the pandemic, we have seen our students, teachers and schools display great resilience and continue to work hard and succeed.”
Georgians taking the ACT also beat their counterparts in other states in terms of the percentage who meet the benchmarks for college readiness. A student who is deemed college-ready achieves a score indicating he or she would have a 50-percent chance of getting a B or higher, or a 75-percent chance of receiving a C or higher, in a subject’s first-year college course.
Only 25 percent of ACT-takers nationwide in 2021 met the readiness standard in all four subjects, a one-percent drop from the percentage who did so last year. Meanwhile, 36 percent of Georgia students met all four benchmarks this year, a six-percent increase since 2020.
Act CEO Janet Godwin’s words in the wake of the new national figures were fraught with concern, underscoring what she fears is the “emergence of a ‘lost generation’” less poised for academic and career success than their recent forebears.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has been an unprecedented challenge for high school students and educators in a number of ways,” Janet Godwin said in a statement. “The latest data are a useful reminder of troubling trends that began long before the pandemic. This is the fourth consecutive year of declining achievement of high school seniors, and too many of our seniors are simply not prepared for college-level work. As a country, we ignore these related trends at our own peril.”
Georgia has come a long way in the last decade where ACT scores are concerned. The percentage of Georgia ACT-takers deemed college-ready by the exam agency increased from only 22 percent in 2012 to over two thirds today.
Education policy in Georgia during that time has taken a fairly conservative path. Two school-choice programs—the Georgia Special Needs Scholarship Program and the Qualified Education Expense Tax Credit—went into effect just over a decade ago. And the D.C.-based Fordham Institute has ranked the strength of teachers unions in Georgia at just 45th compared with all states.
Also, in contrast to schools in many states, many Georgia schools reopened as soon as autumn arrived last year, sparing many students extended delays in in-person learning that have been broadly acknowledged to have compromised student learning, particularly among those in economically struggling households.
“Access to quality courses as part of a rigorous curriculum is still limited for certain groups—like students from rural areas and low-income students—compared to their more affluent peers, and this gap in access was likely exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Dianne Henderson, ACT’s vice president of research.
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