Utah education official weighs in on the state’s average ACT scores

Oct 17, 2022, 7:00 PM
Utah ACT...
Utah slightly beat the national average on the ACT test in 2022. (Shutterstock)

SALT LAKE CITY — Last week, the company that administers the ACT test reported that the average score in 2022 was 19.8 out of a possible 36. The company said that was the lowest score its recorded since 1991.

However, Utah was above the national average with a score of 19.9. 

There is good news in the numbers, a member of the Utah State Board of Education told KSL NewsRadio’s Dave and Dujanovic on Monday. And the effects of COVID-19 must be considered when comparing the numbers year-to-year.

COVID-19 and ACT scores in Utah

In March of 2020, Mark Peterson said that Utah teachers had already administered the ACT to most eligible Utah students. But a third of those students hadn’t taken the ACT test by the time the pandemic hit the United States and schools shut down.

“Because of that, we had a big drop in students who didn’t take the test two years ago,” Peterson said. “So that meant that the least motivated, and students with the least means, didn’t take the test that year. That kind of artificially inflated our numbers.”

According to the Utah State Board of Education, in 2021, Utah saw an 11% decline in the number of students taking the test. 

Petersen said that must be considered when comparing national trends. In the year after COVID-19, more students are taking the test, which is also affecting the numbers.

“This year we’re back to getting more students taking it (the ACT) and our numbers dropped, partially, because of that.”

The number of students that Utah tests is relevant when comparing Utah’s ACT test scores to other states. Utah is one of 17 states where almost every junior in public school takes the ACT.  Peterson said other states only give the test to students who plan to go to college.

There’s at least one more way that COVID-19 has impacted potential college students in Utah. Through 2024, and continuing a pilot program it began in 2020, the University of Utah will not require the ACT test for admission. The school said it will instead focus on a student’s GPA and the rigor of classes taken in high school.

What else did we learn?

The ACT is traditionally seen as one way to measure a student’s likelihood for success in college. It consists of four categories that measure a student’s preparedness.

“I like the college readiness numbers better than the actual composite numbers,” Peterson said, “because what we’re looking at there is the percentage of students who are likely to pass those introductory level classes in college.”

Those introductory classes are English, math, reading, and science.

In 2022, Utah students did better than the national average in math, reading, and science. In 2021, Utah beat the national average in all four categories, and in 2019 Utah was below the national average in all categories.

This analysis of the new ACT numbers by Forbes found that 32% of 2022 graduates who took the test passed three out of four benchmarks. But Peterson warns against thinking that means 68% of students failed.

“(That’s) only if you assume that every single junior in Utah public schools will go to college,” he said. “I know most will go on to some sort of post secondary education, but it’s not always colleges and universities. It may be technical colleges, it may be into the military or it may be straight into the workforce where they’ll get some sort of on-the-job training.”

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Utah education official weighs in on the state’s average ACT scores