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ACT and SAT testing rises modestly but trails pre-pandemic peaks

Scores dropped for the high school class of 2022. Changes in test-taking patterns make comparisons difficult.

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The number of high school students taking college admissions tests has rebounded modestly since the massive disruptions early in the coronavirus pandemic, according to ACT and SAT data for the class of 2022.

But participation in both major standardized tests is down significantly from peak levels reached a few years ago. Admissions testing requirements recently have been suspended or eliminated at many colleges. Test scores are down, but changes in test-taking patterns make comparisons difficult.

The ACT reported this week that more than 1.3 million students from this year’s class took the test, up 4 percent from the previous class. But the total tested was 35 percent lower than the nearly 2.1 million who took the ACT in the class of 2016.

On Sept. 28, the College Board reported that more than 1.7 million students in the class of 2022 took the SAT. That was up 15 percent compared with the previous class but still down 21 percent compared with the record 2.2 million who took it in the class of 2019.

There is also major flux in the way students are taking the tests. A greater share these days participate free — at state or district expense — during a school day instead of paying to take one of the tests on a Saturday. Typically, school-day testing reaches a broader range of students, including more from lower-income families.

In addition, a growing number of selective colleges and universities have dropped admissions test requirements, and some, such as the University of California system, now omit consideration of tests entirely from admissions. UC’s test-blind policy plays a major role in the most populous state.

Harvard suspends testing requirements through 2026

These variables have scrambled the test-taking pool substantially — which in turn affects average scores.

The ACT reported that the average national score for the class of 2022 was 19.8, down from 20.3 the year before and the lowest mark in more than 30 years. The multiple-choice exam covers English, math, reading and science and takes nearly three hours. The maximum score is 36.

“This is the fifth consecutive year of declines in average scores, a worrisome trend that began long before the disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic, and has persisted,” Janet Godwin, chief executive of ACT, said in a statement.

But in a footnote to its charts, ACT acknowledged complications in interpreting the data: “In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, ACT cautions users from making comparisons about this graduating class to previous cohorts or inferring the magnitude of the impact of COVID-related school disruptions on student learning from these data.”

The average SAT score also declined for this year’s class, to 1050, out of a maximum 1600. The average for the previous class was 1060. The SAT takes three hours and covers two sections, math and evidence-based reading and writing. Most questions are in a multiple-choice format.

Major changes are coming to the SAT as it is scheduled to move to a shorter, digital format, ditching the paper-and-pencil version at U.S. sites by spring 2024.

The SAT is going digital and getting much shorter. Say goodbye to No. 2 pencils on testing day.

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