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Officials say Kentucky tested more students and increased ACT scores last year, a rare accomplishment


The average ACT score among Kentucky students increased by one-tenth of a point this year. Officials said the increase is significant because more students were tested overall. According to recent data from the Kentucky Department of Education, the average composite ACT score for students across the commonwealth in 2023 was 18.7, compared to a score of 18.6 last year. Individual subject scores also saw a slight increase last year. The ACT is scaled to a maximum of 36 points, with benchmarks varying between 18 and 22 per subject.

Rose Babington is the Senior Director of State and Federal Programs for ACT. She said Kentucky has reason to celebrate, as its students have raised their scores against the odds.

“Comparing 2022 to 2023, more students tested. And typically, when we see more students test, what we see from a statistical point of view is that the scores decrease,” said Babington. “And to see more students test, which means more students are opening doors to postsecondary opportunities and the average score is increasing. That’s a really great thing.”

Babington said Kentucky offered many new opportunities for students to improve their scores. She said the option to retake the ACT during the school day had a big impact.

“Students had the opportunity to retest in their schools as seniors, and have that opportunity to improve their scores, demonstrate what they’d learned, demonstrate the different skills that maybe even they’d acquired in-between taking the test as a junior and taking the test as a senior. Which I think is a pretty key time when you’re picking up a lot of those, again, really essential skills,” said Babington.

While Kentucky has seen improvement, the state’s scores are still below the national average, which itself has consistently declined. According to the ACT’s 2023 National ACT Profile Report, the national average composite score has fallen from 20.7 in 2019 to 19.8 in 2022 and 19.5 in 2023. Babington said the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on education can’t be ignored, but these numbers have been falling for a long time. In 2012, the national average was 21.1.

Officials said the ACT tests participants on academic building blocks such as basic grammar, literacy in scientific tables and graphs, and algebra to predict the student’s likelihood of obtaining a ‘B’ or above in introductory college courses. The national percentage of students meeting all four subject benchmarks has gradually decreased, from 25% in 2012 to 21% last year.

Babington said the benchmarks are intended as a diagnostic tool to help students identify their academic strengths and weaknesses, especially ahead of postsecondary education.

“A student who doesn’t meet benchmark, that doesn’t mean you’re not going to be really successful. It means, here’s an area where you can say, ‘Hey. I know I’m really strong in English; I know that my area for growth is math, and I know this is an area I want to target. Whether that’s right now in high school or whether that’s going into my first year of college and signing up for math office hours as soon as I get there,’” said Babington. “It’s really, I think, about being able to empower yourself as a student.”

More information about the ACT organization and test, including registration opportunities, is available online at ACT.org.