Quick Reads

South Dakota ACT scores decline but remain higher than national average

By: - October 11, 2023 10:36 am

(Getty Images)

South Dakota students’ average ACT score is down for the third consecutive year, but it remains higher than the national average.

The national nonprofit that administers the college readiness exam released new results Tuesday from the class of 2023. South Dakota students earned an average composite score of 21.1. The highest possible score on the ACT is 36.

That continued a decline from the state’s recent high of 21.7 in 2020, followed by scores of 21.6 in 2021 and 21.5 in 2022. The minimum score for acceptance at the state’s public universities is 18.

The national average composite score this year is 19.5, which is down for the sixth straight year after peaking at 21 in 2017. 


“South Dakota’s ACT scores are good,” said state Secretary of Education Joseph Graves on Wednesday in a news release. “Taking the ACT means a student is considering education beyond high school, and in a knowledge-based economy, that’s a critical thing.”

He went on to attribute South Dakota’s better-than-average scores “to the fact that we kept our schools open during the pandemic. Our students and teachers did the work straight through a difficult time.”

South Dakota school buildings closed about two months early during the spring of 2020 at the suggestion of Gov. Kristi Noem. As the pandemic continued, the state’s schools did reopen earlier and to a greater extent than many other states.

Comparing state ACT scores is difficult, because some states require the test while others don’t, and the percentages of students taking the test in each state varies widely. In Nevada, 100% percent of 2023 high school graduates took the test and posted the nation’s worst average composite score of 17.2. In each of Connecticut and Massachusetts, 8% of graduates took the test, and the states tied for the nation’s highest score of 26.4.

In South Dakota, the average composite score of 21.1 was posted by the 59% of 2023 high school graduates who took the exam. That score was better than the two states with the most similar participation rates: Hawaii, where 64% of graduates took the test and posted an average composite score of 17.9, and Iowa, where 48% of students took the test and posted a score of 20.8.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.