Annual Changes in High School Average ACT Composite Scores

Schools, districts, and states frequently use ACT scores as indicators of school quality and progress over time. Small increases in school-level ACT outcomes are often met with celebration, or when they decrease, with concern. To facilitate assignment of meaning to such change, ACT has quantified school-level changes in outcomes by enabling comparison to one-year school-level change distributions.

Crouse and Harmston (2018) quantified changes in percentage meeting three or four ACT College and Career Readiness Benchmarks. Using similar methodology, Harmston and Crouse (2016) enabled education leaders to identify the percentile rank of their school’s annual change in average Composite scores compared to a nationwide set of similar sized schools.

Though earlier papers provided a framework with which to better understand change, this paper moves a step further by providing context and an online application to aid the interpretation of annual changes in school-level average ACT Composite scores relative to a five-year national comparison group. When educators attempt to understand and interpret changes in aggregate ACT scores, they often have a number of questions:

  • Are ACT scores representative of all students?
  • What are some considerations for institutional- and state-level ACT performance comparisons?
  • Do annual changes in a school’s average test scores indicate a substantive difference in student performance?
  • How do local changes in annual average ACT test scores compare to schools nationwide?
  • What do changes in average test scores tell us about school quality and progress?


Matt T. Harmston, MA

Matt Harmston is a senior research scientist in Research Technology, Data Science, and Analytics specializing in secondary research and report development.

Wayne J. Camara, PhD

Wayne Camara is ACT’s Horace Mann Chair. He has served as SVP of Research at ACT, Vice President of R&D at College Board and Associate Executive Director of Science at the American Psychological Association. His research spans issues of validity, fairness, and utility of assessments in admissions, accountability, and employment.

Christine K. Phillips

Christine Phillips is a program manager in Research Technology, Data Science, and Analytics, focusing on custom research projects and ACT contract reporting.