Learning Loss: Alabama ACT Scores Climb but Still Down From Pre-Pandemic Levels

ACT scores for Alabama’s Class of 2023 have improved in the past two years but still have not reached the levels scored before the learning loss of the pandemic, a new report from the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama shows.

Statewide, students scored on average 17.72 on the ACT’s 36-point scale in 2023. That’s up from the 17.69 average in 2022 but still falls short of the 18.58 average in 2021.

The ACT is based on tests in four subjects – English, reading, science and math. In 2023, 12.8% of students who took the ACT had scores considered “college ready” in all four of those subjects. In 2021, that number was 15.0%, according to the report.

In Birmingham City schools, the percentage of students who were college ready in all subjects was 1.5% in 2023, compared to 2.4% in 2021. In the Jefferson County School System, 5.2% of students in 2023 were college ready in all subjects, compared to 7.4% in 2021.

The rates in other local systems vary drastically. In the Homewood City Schools, for instance, 51.4% were college ready in all subjects compared to 49.6% in 2021.

Influence of Poverty

Some students have done better than others in overcoming pandemic learning loss, even within the same school systems.

“The scores of students from low-income households fell further during the pandemic and have not recovered to the same extent as students from non-poverty households,” the report states.

Alabama students who were not living in poverty conditions in 2023 had or almost had made up the ground lost during the pandemic in all four subjects, with the percentage who scored college ready in reading topping the percentage in 2020.

However, the story is different among children who were living in poverty. Their college-ready scores were still lower in all categories in 2023 than they were in 2020 – with a difference of almost five percentage points in English.

In the Birmingham system, for example, the average ACT scores for children not living in poverty was 16.8. For economically challenged students, the average was 14.2.

In Jefferson County, the average score for students who do not live in poverty was 18.2, above the state average, but the average for students who do live in poverty was 14.8. In Homewood, the average scores were 25.7 for students not living in poverty and 17.9 for those who do.

PARCA’s report includes a set of interactive graphics to find information on each of the state’s school systems, looking at the data from a variety of perspectives.