Dear Academic Approach Families & Colleagues:

In its recently released 2020 National Profile Report, ACT reports that class of 2020 average ACT composite scores declined from 20.7 to 20.6, which represents the lowest composite score in 10 years. Similar results were seen in the recently released SAT 2020 Annual Report, where College Board reports a decrease in scores for the Class of 2020: SAT composite scores dropped from 1059 (Class of 2019) to 1051 (Class of 2020), with a 3-point decrease in Evidence-Based Reading & Writing (EBRW) from 531 to 528 and a 5-point decrease in Math from 528 to 523.

The percentage of students meeting college readiness benchmarks also saw decline, particularly in math, where the percent of college-ready students dropped from 39% to 37% nationally:

These benchmarks are particularly important to track because they predict college performance and persistence. Students meeting a benchmark in a given subject are more likely to pass the related freshman-level college course; students meeting multiple benchmarks are more likely to graduate from college. ACT stresses that the best preparation for the test and college success is rigorous coursework in high school. It is concerning, therefore, to see this decline, especially in math. This report only includes the graduating class of 2020, which was largely unaffected (in terms of ACT test-taking) by the pandemic. Given the research on COVID-slide, many predict a year of steep declines in math learning and performance that will likely be reflected in next year’s report.  

ACT’s own research from the spring would indicate we can expect even greater declines for the class of 2021. In its May research and policy brief, ACT shared its predictions of the impact of remote learning on ACT performance. The table below summarizes the research on typical per-month gains for students in school versus out of school. 

Source: ACT Research & Policy Brief

Typically, an ACT composite score increases by 1.96 points over a school year and decreases by 0.43 points over the summer: a net gain of 1.53 points per year. By shifting two months of classroom instruction to typical summer losses (to reflect inconsistent approaches to remote learning in the spring), students would instead see a net gain of only 0.82 points per year. That’s likely to be exacerbated by the variety of experiences in school this fall; at this point, most students are still learning remotely to varying degrees of efficacy. This seemingly small decrease in ACT scores amounts to a sizable impact on overall student achievement across the country.

Standardized tests like the ACT and SAT—and research on their predictive power—provide a context for correlating assessment data with high school GPA and readiness to perform and persist in college. SAT research boasts a strong correlation criterion: 0.53. In a year when measures of academic progress are more important than ever and we need to measure GPA against other reliable criteria, it’s important to track what data we can obtain to predict and combat declines in learning.

With months of remote and/or hybrid learning ahead, we’ll be watching student achievement data closely to track how this trend develops. Most importantly, we’ll remain focused on combatting the problem of learning loss through a rigorous approach to skills-based instruction

Be well,
Matthew Pietrafetta, Ph.D., Founder & CEO