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Thousands fewer graduating high school students took the SAT and ACT college readiness assessments in 2021 compared to the previous year.

About 1.5 million students in the graduating class of 2021 took the SAT, down from 2.2 million in the class of 2020, leading the College Board to blame the participation decline on coronavirus pandemic disruptions:

Many students attempted to take the SAT but were unfortunately unable to due to widespread covid-related disruptions, with more than one million test registrations cancelled as schools and test centers had to close or reduce capacity. Despite the decline in participation due to school and test center closures, proportional representation across student subgroups was roughly similar to previous classes due in large part to SAT School Day. Students who took the SAT through SAT School Day represented a larger portion of the testing population when compared to previous years.

While the average SAT score rose slightly for this year’s class – 1060 compared to 1051 in 2020 – the College Board admits “because participation numbers vary so widely from normal years due to the pandemic, it is not possible to compare performance results between the class of 2021 and previous classes.”

Asian Americans, nevertheless, scored higher on average on both the Reading/Writing and Mathematics sections of the SAT than any other racial/ethnic group, as Inside Higher Ed reported last month:

Twitter user Unsilenced Science showed, from 2020 to 2021, men’s participation in the SAT dropped 30 percent, and their composite score rose 13 points.

Among women, 32 percent fewer took the SAT in 2021, and their composite score rose six points.

In a similar trend reported Wednesday, about 1.3 million high school students took the ACT exam in 2021, 375,000 fewer than last year and a number that represents 35 percent of graduates nationwide.

The average composite score on the ACT dropped from 20.6 in 2020 to 20.3 in 2021, the lowest level in at least ten years. The ACT’s highest possible score is a 36.

All racial/ethnic groups showed a decline in ACT scores, except Asian Americans and American-Indian/Alaska Native students.

ACT CEO Janet Godwin said in a statement:

The COVID-19 pandemic has been an unprecedented challenge for high school students and educators in a number of ways. The latest data are a useful reminder of troubling trends that began long before the pandemic. This is the fourth consecutive year of declining achievement of high school seniors, and too many of our seniors are simply not prepared for college-level work. As a country, we ignore these related trends at our own peril.

“We are seeing a number of year-over-year trends that suggest the emergence of a ‘lost generation’ that is less likely to succeed academically and in the workplace,” Godwin added. “These trends have all been worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic, but it is not the single cause nor excuse for them.”

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