Oct 26, 2021 - News

Iowa ranks No. 2 in U.S. for best ACT scores

Data: ACT; Chart: Danielle Alberti/Axios

Iowa's 2021 high school graduating class earned the second-highest ACT score in the U.S., averaging a composite score of 21.5 out of 36, said Rose Babington, ACT's director of state partnerships.

  • Our ranking is in comparison to other states who have a 40% or higher participation rate.

State of play: Iowa's average score is 1.2 points higher than the national average — 20.3.

  • We rank just below Minnesota and South Dakota, who tied for first at 21.6.

Yes, but: The number of Iowa seniors who took the ACT suffered a deep decline — 47% in comparison to 2020's 68%.

  • While our average ACT score slightly improved between 2020 and 2021, that's not a positive signal when coupled with a decline in participation, Babington said.
  • That may mean fewer underprivileged students are considering college in their post-graduation plans, showing the disparity COVID-19 has caused in higher education.

Reality check: While we should celebrate our top spot, truly comparing states is difficult because everyone handled the pandemic differently.

The big picture: Schools and families should use the ACT scores to see if their students are hitting recommended benchmarks that indicate if they'll get a C or better in their first-year college classes.

  • 29% of Iowa students who took the ACT hit all English, math, reading and science benchmarks. But 28% didn't hit any, Babington said.

The bottom line: It's better than the nation's average of 39%, but it still shows there's room for improvement in high school.


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