FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — U.S. high school students have hit the lowest average test score on the ACT college admissions test in more than three decades, and numbers for Arkansas test scores follow this trend while universities in the state are looking more at GPA scores in regards to admittance rather than ACT scores. 

“I know the last several years ACT scores have taken a little bit of a tumble,” said Dr. Michelle Miller, principal of Fayetteville High School. “I think some of it is due to the COVID slump, if you will. In Fayetteville, we have seen a rise in those scores.”

According to Fayetteville High School, student ACT scores have jumped from an average of 21.4 to 22.8.  

Miller says the district has ways to ensure students are prepared for college.

“Allow the students the opportunity to take advanced classes,” said Miller. “Making sure our classes include that test prep. And making sure the student is aware of what is going to be on the test.

Miller went on to say that some students improve their scores by taking the ACT multiple times. 

“It’s not a one-shot,” said Miller. “The ACT will tell you the more you take the exam. The better you end up doing.”

However, the University of Arkansas started putting more emphasis on high school students’ GPAs during the COVID-19 pandemic. This is because the university was forced to become test-optional during that time. 

“It looked to us that higher GPAs were actually thriving regardless of test score, and it was pretty clear to us GPA mattered as far as our institution was concerned. It was much more important to be an indicator as to who was going to be successful, who would retain, who would graduate,” said Suzanne McCray, dean of admissions at the University of Arkansas.

The University of Arkansas-Fort Smith made the decision to allow students to use their GPAs as a way to gain admission into the college. Students could still submit their ACT if they wanted to, But it is no longer required.

Blake Bedsole is the director of admissions at UAFS. He says the university began to see the ACT scores as not having as much weight on how a student is going to succeed in college.

“There is a lot of data out there that has disparities among racial groups, among social economic groups. The test is really more of a reflection of economic status than it is the students’ ability to succeed in college,” Bedsole said.

The Arkansas Department of Education released the following statement in response to falling ACT scores:

“This year’s ACT results for the graduating class are not surprising. The downward trend mirrors the trend seen in other data and is another indicator of why the LEARNS Act was needed. Through the LEARNS Act, literacy coaches are being deployed around the state, tutoring grants will be available to parents, students will have the ability to obtain a career diploma, and teacher starting salaries are among the highest in the nation. With this multi-faceted approach to education, we anticipate improved student learning in the future.”

Arkansas Department of Education