A Decade of ACT® Data by Race/Ethnicity

Michael Laird & Craig Gehring

This report is an analysis of 10 years of data originally collected by ACT®, Inc. and presented in annual National Profile Reports from 2007 to 2016. It covers three primary areas examined by race/ethnicity: 1) cohort size, 2) percent of students meeting college readiness benchmarks, and 3) average ACT score.

Key Findings

  • Asian American students are the only demographic in which the average ACT score across all subjects has increased and in which the percent of tested students meeting college readiness benchmarks has increased across all subjects.
  • Native American students are the only demographic in which the average ACT score has been on a steady decline for 10 years. The years from 2010–2013 were a relative “free-fall.” In total, average scores for Native American students across all subjects have decreased by roughly 1.65 points. The percent of Native American students meeting all four college readiness benchmarks has decreased from 11% to 9% from 2007 to 2016.
  • For African American students, the average ACT score for all subjects has remained static, experiencing no or minimal change. The average subject scores remain relatively constant despite a 121% increase in the African American cohort over 10 years and a slight increase in the percent of African American students meeting all four college readiness benchmarks.

Cohort Size by Race/Ethnicity

decade-all
From 2007 to 2016, the size of the ACT cohort (the number of students taking the ACT by year) has increased by nearly 61%, with the total number of students tested in 2007 at 1,300,599 and the total number of students tested in 2016 at 2,090,342.

This has predominantly come from increases in the cohort sizes of minority populations: the African American cohort increased by 78%, the Asian American cohort increased by 112%, and the Hispanic/Latino cohort increased by 262%. Overall, the Native American cohort has increased the least, only 15% over 10 years.

NOTE: In 2011, ACT® began reporting Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders as distinct demographic groups.

Descriptive Profile of ACT College Readiness Benchmarks

ACT provides educators and policy makers with a metric for determining career and college readiness for student populations by establishing ACT College Readiness Benchmark scores for each of the primary subjects: English, Math, Reading, and Science. In 2016, the benchmark scores for each subject were as follows:

English = 18                         Math = 22                            Reading = 22                       Science = 23

According to ACT, a student who meets an ACT College Readiness Benchmark when taking the ACT has a 50% chance of earning a B and a 75% chance of earning a C in a corresponding first-year, credit-bearing course in that subject.

English

decade-eng
The cohorts of most races/ethnicities have seen a slight decline in the percent of students meeting English Benchmark scores, with the exception of Asian American students, who have seen a slight increase.

The average English score has declined or remained constant from 2007 to 2016 for African Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans, and Caucasians. For the Asian American cohort, the average English score has increased from 21.7 to 23.3 from 2007 to 2016, with 73% of Asian Americans meeting the English Benchmark in 2007 and 75% of Asian Americans meeting the English Benchmark in 2016.

For the Hispanic/Latino cohort, the average English score has remained the most static, with Hispanics/Latinos earning an average English score of 17.6 in 2007 and 17.6 in 2016.

The average English score for Native American students and the percent of these students meeting the English Benchmark have decreased most significantly, with an average English score of 17.9 (51% meeting benchmark) in 2006 and an average English score of 16.3 (37% meeting benchmark) in 2016.

Math
decade-math

Most races/ethnicities have seen a slight increase in the percent of students meeting the Math Benchmark, with the exception of Native American students.

Asian American students have seen the largest increase in average score and percent of students meeting the Math Benchmark, earning an average Math score of 23.6 (61% meeting benchmark) in 2007 and 25.0 (70% meeting benchmark) in 2016.

The percent of Native American students meeting the Math Benchmark has decreased from 24% in 2007 to 18% in 2016. Similarly, the average Math score of Native American students has decreased from 18.7 in 2007 to 17.7 in 2016.

The average score of Caucasian students has remained the most static, with an average Math score of 21.7 (49% meeting benchmark) in 2007 and 21.7 (50% meeting benchmark) in 2016.

Reading

decade-read
Asian American students are the only demographic to have seen an increase in percent of students meeting the Reading Benchmark, from 56% in 2007 to 59% in 2016. All other demographics have seen a decrease in the percent of students meeting the Reading Benchmark.

Native American students experienced the largest drop in the percent of students meeting the Reading Benchmark, falling from 38% in 2007 to 25% in 2016. Similarly, Native American students experienced the largest drop in average Reading score, from 19.4 in 2007 to 17.4 in 2016.

The average Reading score for the other demographics has remained mostly constant, despite the drops in the percent of students meeting the Reading Benchmark.

Science

decade-sci
All demographics have seen a slight increase in the percent of students meeting the Science Benchmark.

African American students experienced the largest increase in the percent of students meeting the Science Benchmark, from 5% in 2007 to 11% in 2016.

Native American students experienced the least increase in the percent of students meeting the Science Benchmark, from 15% in 2007 to 16% in 2016. For Native American students, the average Science score decreased from 19.2 in 2007 to 17.2 in 2016.

Asian Americans experienced the largest increase in average Science score, from 22.3 in 2007 to 23.6 in 2016. For the Asian American cohort, 37% of students met the Science Benchmark in 2007, while 56% of Asian American students met the Science Benchmark in 2016.

Composite (All Four)

decade-composite
All cohorts, with the exception of the Native American cohort, saw an increase in the percent of students meeting all four benchmarks, the primary metric for determining college and career readiness by the ACT. This is in large part due to the increase in the percent of students meeting the Science Benchmark, markedly a primary limiting factor in determining whether students meet all four benchmarks (students who meet only three benchmarks are likely to have not met the Science Benchmark).

The African American cohort saw the largest increase in the percent of students meeting all four benchmarks, from 3% in 2007 to 6% in 2016. However, the average composite score for African American students remained static, with students earning an average composite score of 17.0 in both 2007 and 2016.

The Asian American cohort saw the largest population of students meeting all four benchmarks, with 32% of Asian American students meeting all four benchmarks in 2006 and 46% of Asian American students meeting all four benchmarks in 2016. The average composite score for Asian American students increased from 22.6 in 2007 to 24.0 in 2016.

Native American students are the only demographic to have experienced a decrease in the percent of students meeting all four benchmarks over 10 years, with 11% in 2007 and 9% in 2016. The average composite score for Native American students decreased from 18.9 in 2007 to 17.7 in 2016, the largest decline in the average composite score across all demographics.


Descriptive Profile of ACT Cohorts by Race/Ethnicity

African American Cohort
decade-aframr

Percentage Meeting Benchmark Average Score
English Decreased Decreased
Math Increased No Change
Reading Decreased Increased
Science Increased No Change
All Four/Composite Increased No Change

The average score and the percent of students meeting benchmarks in the African American cohort has remained more static over the last 10 years than other cohorts, with an average change of 0.0 points per subject. Average Math and Science scores remained static, while the average English score decreased by 0.3 points and the average Reading score increased by 0.3 points.

The population of African American students taking the ACT has increased by roughly 78%, from 152,412 in 2007 to 272,363 in 2016. The African American cohort made up roughly 13% of the total population of students taking the ACT in 2016.

Asian American Cohort
decade-asnamr

Percentage Meeting Benchmark Average Score
English Increased Increased
Math Increased Increased
Reading Increased Increased
Science Increased Increased
All Four/Composite Increased Increased

The average score of the Asian American cohort across all subjects has increased by 1.475 points over the last 10 years. The size of the Asian American cohort has increased from 42,257 to 93,493 over 10 years, an increase of roughly 121%. In 2016, Asian Americans made up 4.5% of the total population of students taking the ACT.

Hispanic/Latino Cohort
decade-hispanic

Percentage Meeting Benchmark Average Score
English Decreased No Change
Math Increased Decreased
Reading Decreased Increased
Science Increased Increased
All Four/Composite Increased Decreased

The average score of the Hispanic/Latino cohort remained relatively constant across all subjects. The most dramatic change occurred in the average Reading score, with an increase of 0.3 points from 2007 to 2016. The size of the Hispanic/Latino cohort has increased from 93,137 to 337,280 over 10 years, an increase of 262%. In 2016, Hispanic/Latino students made up 16% of the total population of students taking the ACT.

Native American Cohort
decade-ntvamr

Percentage Meeting Benchmark Average Score
English Decreased Decreased
Math Decreased Decreased
Reading Decreased Decreased
Science Increased Decreased
All Four/Composite Decreased Decreased

The average score of the Native American cohort has decreased by an average of 1.65 points over 10 years, with 2016 having been the worst scoring year for Native Americans in 10 years across all subjects. The size of the Native American cohort has increased by only 15% in 10 years, the smallest increase in cohort size of all demographics. In 2016, Native Americans made up less than 1% of the total population of students taking the ACT.

The average score of the Native American cohort experienced the most dramatic decrease from 2010 to 2013: all average subject scores decreased by more than 1.0 point over these years, with the exception of the average Math score, which still experienced a decrease of 0.6 points. This was a relative “free-fall” period for this cohort.

Caucasian Cohort

decade-caucasian

Percentage Meeting Benchmark Average Score
English Decreased Increased
Math Increased No Change
Reading Decreased Increased
Science Increased Increased
All Four/Composite Increased Increased

The subject scores of the Caucasian cohort remained relatively constant, increasing on average by 0.15 points over 10 years. The size of the Caucasian cohort has increased by nearly 44% over 10 years. In 2016, the Caucasian cohort made up nearly 54% of the total students taking the ACT.

The State of 2016

decade-allcohorts
In 2016, the average scores of Asian American, Caucasian American, and Two/More Races cohorts exceeded or met the average scores of the entire cohort. Conversely, the average scores of African American, Native American, Hispanic/Latino, Pacific Islander, and No Response cohorts were below that of the average scores of the entire cohort.Because variation in year-to-year average scores by race/ethnicity is small, upsets within the current trends are unlikely without significant stretches of time. However, should these trends continue over the next decade, the average scores of the African American cohort may begin to exceed the average scores of the Native American cohort.There is significant potential for the improvement of both average scores and the percent of cohorts meeting the college readiness benchmarks the African American cohort, the Hispanic/Latino cohort, and the Native American cohort, races/ethnicities who together make up nearly 30% of all students taking the ACT in 2016. A dramatic impact on the college readiness of these cohorts can likely be made by focusing on the STEM (Science and Math) subjects of the ACT specifically, areas in which the scores of all three of these cohorts could benefit from increased attention.


Methodology and References

All data was collected and analyzed from official public domain reports developed by ACT®.

  • ACT®, The ACT Profile Report – National – Graduating Class 2007, http://forms.act.org/newsroom/data/2007/pdf/National2007.pdf
  • ACT®, ACT High School Profile Report – National – Graduating Class 2008, http://www.act.org/content/dam/act/unsecured/documents/Natl-Scores-2008-National2008.pdf
  • ACT®, ACT Profile Report – National – Graduating Class 2009, http://www.act.org/content/dam/act/unsecured/documents/Natl-Scores-2009-National2009.pdf
  • ACT®, ACT Profile Report – National – Graduating Class 2010, http://www.act.org/content/dam/act/unsecured/documents/Natl-Scores-2010-National2010.pdf
  • ACT®, The ACT Profile Report – National – Graduating Class 2011, http://www.act.org/content/dam/act/unsecured/documents/Natl-Scores-2011-National2011.pdf
  • ACT®, The ACT Profile Report – National – Graduating Class 2012, http://www.act.org/content/dam/act/unsecured/documents/Natl-Scores-2012-National2012.pdf
  • ACT®, The ACT Profile Report – National – Graduating Class 2013, http://www.act.org/content/dam/act/unsecured/documents/Natl-Scores-2013-National2013.pdf
  • ACT®, The ACT Profile Report – National – Graduating Class 2014, http://www.act.org/content/act/en/research/pdfs/act-profile-reportnationalgraduatingclass2014national.html
  • ACT®, The ACT Profile Report – National – Graduating Class 2015, http://www.act.org/content/dam/act/unsecured/documents/ACT-National-Profile-Report-2015.pdf
  • ACT®, The ACT Profile Report – National – Graduating Class 2016, https://www.act.org/content/dam/act/unsecured/documents/P_99_999999_N_S_N00_ACT-GCPR_National.pdf