SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4)- The Utah State Board of Education says the number of Utah students taking the American College Testing exam fell by 11 percent as schools closed at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Despite the drop, the board says average composite scores rose from 20.2 in 2020 to 20.6 in 2021. Nationally, 22 percent fewer students took the ACT while average composite scores dropped from 20.6 to 20.3, according to data released today.

Utah scores for all racial and ethnic groups except for students who identify as Pacific Islanders also rose. Scores for students who are Pacific Islanders slipped from 17.0 in 2020 to 16.7 in 2021.

All Utah public schools take the ACT, but only students who took the 11th grade ACT test in the first testing window of 2020 were able to take the test at school due to the statewide closure of school buildings. 

Utah students who were set to take the 11th grade ACT test during either of the other two in-school testing windows were given vouchers and had to arrange to take the test on one of the ACT national testing dates available through 2020. 

On the flip side, ACT also notes that students who take the test multiple times are more likely to improve their scores. The number of Utah students who took the ACT multiple times in 2020 dropped by 36 percent.

“The past two school years have been [a] challenging one for everyone,” said State Superintendent of Public Instruction Sydnee Dickson. 

She said the Utah results of the ACT data reflects positively on students, teachers, and parents who remained committed to education.

“We need to continue focusing on ensuring that all students who are age eligible take the ACT which will help them expand their choices and opportunities for the future,” she said.

Utah’s scoring in English went up from 19.3 in 2020 to 19.7 in 2021. Math scores also went up from 19.7 in 2020 to 20.1 in 2021. Reading scores are at 21.3 this year compared to 21.0 in 2020. Science scores also saw a considerable jump from 20.3 in 2020 to 20.8.

The purpose of the ACT is to measure the ability of high school students’ education along with their ability to do college-level work, focusing in four core areas: English, mathematics, reading, and science.

Out of all Utah colleges and universities, Southern Utah University dropped the ACT/SAT requirement for both the admissions process for the 2021-2022 academic year. It also made it optional for merit-based scholarships for the same academic year.

This change was made in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The aim is to offer equitable access to both admissions and scholarships for a greater number of students.