Matt's Past SAT/ACT News Update:

Matt O'Connor

Oct 19, 2018

The ACT testing report ("The State of College and Career Readiness National 2018") has been released. As expected — due to recent SAT contract wins — the number of students in the college-bound senior class of 2018 who took the ACT in the 2017-18 testing year declined compared to previous years, to 1.914 million. Here are the number of students included in each ACT report for the past 4 years:

Class of 2015 1,924,436
Class of 2016 2,090,342
Class of 2017 2,030,038
Class of 2018 1,914,817

ACT, Inc. estimates that 55% of the high school graduating class took at least one ACT exam. About 44% of 2018 ACT-tested graduates took the ACT more than once.

The average ACT composite score among all US senior high school students declined to 20.8, down from 21.0 for the class of 2017.

Asian students were the only group to show ACT score increases, to 24.5, while White students scored 22.2, Hispanic students 18.8, and African-American students 16.9.

The ACT tracks scores in 4 benchmark categories: English, math, reading, and science.

---Only 27% of students tested met all 4 of the ACT College Readiness Benchmarks. About 38% achieved at least 3 of the 4 benchmarks.

---Thirty-five percent of 2018 graduates met none of the 4 ACT College Readiness Benchmarks, up from 31% in 2014 and from 33% last year.

---While 45% of 2018 graduates said they were interested in STEM majors or occupations, only 20% met the ACT STEM Readiness Benchmark.

---During the 2017–2018 academic year, 542,000 fee waivers were awarded to low-income high school students, but 28% (over 150,000) of these no-cost tests were not taken by eligible students.

Here is a more stat-oriented ACT testing report for 2018 (pdf).

FairTest has issued a response to the ACT 2018 report.


The number of students taking the ACT college admissions exam plunged for the second year in a row, for the high school class of 2018. The decline -- more than 175,000 or 8% over the two-year period -- counters a long-term trend in which the ACT overtook the SAT in popularity. FairTest Public Education Director Bob Schaeffer explained, “A portion of the drop-off likely stems from the rapid growth in students applying to test-optional colleges that do not require either the ACT or SAT.”

Catherine Gewertz of Education week writes that math scores have declined to a 20-year low on the ACT.


The newest batch of ACT scores shows troubling long-term declines in performance, with students’ math achievement reaching a 20-year low, according to results released Wednesday.

The average math score for the graduating class of 2018 was 20.5, marking a steady decline from 20.9 five years ago, and virtually no progress since 1998, when it was 20.6. Each of the four sections of the college-entrance exam is graded on a 36-point scale.

“We’re at a very dangerous point. And if we do nothing, it will keep on declining,” ACT’s chief executive officer, Marten Roorda, said in an interview.

The pattern in math scores is particularly worrisome at a time when strong math skills are important for the science, engineering, and technology jobs that play powerful roles in the U.S. economy, he said.

The number of students taking the ACT declined for a second consecutive year, but the most recent drop was much bigger.

In the class of 2018, 1.9 million students took the college-admissions exam, a drop of 5.6 percent from the 2 million who took it in the class of 2017. The previous year, participation declined by 2.8 percent. Fifty-five percent of the nation’s high school graduating class now takes the ACT, compared to 60 percent a year earlier.

This year’s decline in participation would have been even bigger¬¬—6.2 percent—if ACT hadn’t changed the way it calculates that number. This year, for the first time, it included 7,500 students from the class of 2018 who took the ACT during its July test administration. Previous score reports included only the six test dates between September and June.

Some test-industry watchers speculated that a portion of the drop in ACT participation could be explained by students returning to the SAT after initially avoiding the newly redesigned version that debuted in 2016, and choosing the ACT instead.

ACT has suffered key losses in its battle for market share against the College Board, which owns the SAT. All but about 1,000 of the 115,000-student decline in participation between 2017 and 2018 came from losing statewide contracts in Colorado and Illinois, which now use the SAT, said ACT spokesman Ed Colby. West Virginia also recently switched from the ACT to the SAT.

Roorda said the company is still seeing steady growth in district-level contracts, however. The number of school districts that administer the ACT to all students has risen from about 1,100 in 2016-17 to more than 2,000 this year, Colby said.

Other articles focusing on the 2018 ACT testing report have been published in the Wall Street Journal and Inside Higher Ed.

The LA Times writes that California State University's president has asked faculty leaders to perform research regarding the relationship between SAT/ACT scores and success at Cal State. The move has been spurred by a similar announcement by the University of California last month.


California State University Chancellor Timothy P. White said Wednesday that he has asked academic leaders to study whether the SAT and ACT are valid predictors of student success, raising hopes that the nation’s largest public university system will ultimately drop standardized test scores as admission requirements.

White said he shared concerns about the tests’ limitations and wanted to make sure that Cal State applicants are subject to “meaningful evaluations.”

“We do focus on being inclusive rather than exclusive,” White said after an appearance Wednesday at Cal State Northridge. “There is a lot of evidence that [standardized testing] has a bias against students based on their demographics. There’s no doubt about that. What I want to make certain of is that there isn’t an unintended consequence of any sort of changes that create other problems.”

White said he expected to make an announcement on the issue “pretty soon.”

Last week, the University of California’s faculty leaders announced that President Janet Napolitano had asked them to study how the standardized tests are used in the admissions process and whether changes are needed.

White said the news from UC prompted him to ask a Cal State Academic Senate committee and a systemwide admissions advisory task force to launch a similar study.

Cal State leaders plan to discuss the issue with their counterparts in the UC Office of the President “in the very near future,” said Cal State spokeswoman Toni Molle.

A decision by UC and Cal State to drop the tests would upend the nation’s education landscape. The two systems educate more than 720,000 students from every state in the nation and exert outsize influence on national educational trends.

UC Regent Eloy Ortiz Oakley, chancellor of the California Community Colleges, has called for an end to the testing requirements. On Twitter, he has urged students to post their test experiences and ask their universities to #DroptheSAT.

The Texas Education Authority has proposed a rule change that would mandate the administration of free SAT/ACT testing for 109,000 (about 30%) of the 360,000 Texas high school students in the junior class each year. The new rule would require school districts to use the SAT or ACT to fulfill federal high school assessment requirements for students who took the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR®) Algebra I EOC assessment or both the STAAR® English I and English II EOC assessments prior to high school. However, there is a disagreement as to whether the school districts or the state of Texas should pay for the exams, which could cost $5.5 million annually.


A battle is brewing between the Texas Education Agency and school districts over who should shoulder the costs of federally mandated ACT and SAT exams for certain high school students.

At the center of the funding battle is a group of 109,000 students who completed high-level state math and reading tests before entering high school. Federal education law now requires those students to take another assessment while they are in high school to measure their achievement.

In a proposed change to its administrative rules, the TEA said it would use the ACT and SAT — two standardized tests administered for college admissions — to test those students in high school, and that school districts and charter schools should pay for them.

School districts disagree, and they fired back against the TEA during a public comment period for the proposed amendment.

“It was unfathomable that [the TEA] wouldn’t agree to pay for these tests,” said Casey McCreary, the associate executive director of education policy at the Texas Association of School Administrators, one of the organizations that is opposed to the proposal.

Another article highlights another aspect of the proposed change in Texas: SAT/ACT May Now Be Graduation Requirement for Some Texas Students.

EdSource offers a detailed article regarding California Governor Jerry Brown's September 28th decision to veto a bill that would have allowed California school districts to substitute the SAT or ACT for the state's high school exam. As stated in the excerpts below, the bill might be re-introduced next year, after Gov. Brown leaves office.


With the advice of his longtime education adviser, Michael Kirst, Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed legislation Friday that would give school districts the option of replacing the state’s 11th-grade standardized test with the college admissions tests, the SAT or the ACT.

Assemblyman Patrick O’Donnell, D-Long Beach, who chairs the Assembly Education Committee, immediately promised to bring back Assembly Bill 1951, which he authored, next year, under a new governor.

Organizations representing the California school boards and administrators, plus more than two dozen school districts, supported the bill. Many of the districts already offer either the SAT or ACT, or both, at district expense, to all juniors as a way to encourage more students to pursue college. They argue that their students take the college readiness tests, which many colleges use as a factor for admissions, more seriously than the state’s standardized tests in math and English language arts. They say the six-hour Smarter Balanced tests are duplicative and students largely view them as personally irrelevant.

In his three-paragraph veto message, Brown credited O’Donnell’s efforts to improve students’ access to college and reduce 11th-grade “testing fatigue.” But he said that the preferable way to achieve both goals would be for the University of California and California State University to use the Smarter Balanced test as an admissions test instead of the ACT or SAT.

Neither system currently does that, but at the request of Kirst, who is president of the State Board of Education, and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, a UC administrator wrote in July that the UC would consider whether that would be feasible.

But O’Donnell said that even if CSU and UC were interested, it would take years for them to factor Smarter Balanced scores into their admissions criteria. His bill would have given districts the option of switching to the SAT or ACT in 2019-20.

The ongoing lawsuits against Harvard University that allege racial discrimination against Asian applicants have elicited testimony from Dean of Admissions William Fitzsimmons, as outlined by the New York Post: Harvard’s gatekeeper reveals SAT cutoff scores based on race


A Harvard University dean testified that the school has different SAT score standards for prospective students based on factors such as race and sex — but insisted that the practice isn’t discriminatory, as a trial alleging racism against Asian-American applicants began this week.

The Ivy League school was sued in 2014 by the group Students for Fair Admissions, which claims that Asian-American students, despite top-notch academic records, had the lowest admission rate among any race.

The trial began Monday, and has so far only included testimony from dean of admissions William Fitzsimmons.
He said Harvard sends recruitment letters to African-American, Native American and Hispanic high schoolers with mid-range SAT scores, around 1100 on math and verbal combined out of a possible 1600, CNN reported.

Asian-Americans only receive a recruitment letter if they score at least 250 points higher — 1350 for women, and 1380 for men.

Fitzsimmons explained a similar process for white wannabe students in states that don’t see a lot of Harvard attendees, like Montana or Nevada. Students in those states would receive a recruitment letter if they had at least a 1310 on their SATs.

“That’s race discrimination, plain and simple,” John Hughes, a lawyer for Students for Fair Admissions, challenged the dean.

“It is not,” the dean insisted. He said the school targeted certain groups in order to “break the cycle” and try to convince students to apply to Harvard who normally wouldn’t consider the school.

Fitzsimmons’ office oversees the screening process of about 40,000 applications and whittles them down to 2,000 acceptance letters that are handed out each year.

Until now, the National Merit Scholarship candidates have been initially identified through PSAT scores, and had their awards confirmed through SAT scores, but now Inside Higher Ed's Scott Jaschik writes that the ACT May Be Used to 'Confirm' National Merit Status.

Two more colleges have announced the adoption of test optional policies:

---The College of St. Scholastica (US News-ranked no. 47 in Regional Universities Midwest; 2,700 undergraduates; 68% acceptance rate; 19/27 ACT 25th/75th percentiles)

---Ferris State University (Ranked no. 94 in Regional Universities Midwest by US News; 12,500 undergraduates; 74% acceptance rate; SAT/ACT 25th-75th percentile of 940-117)

The SAT testing report should be released any day now.