LAMP high school Alabama

Despite its sad name, Alabama’s Loveless High School edges out Mountain Brook and Vestavia Hills high schools in claiming the title of Alabama’s Best High School for ACT results. An important factor to consider when determining which are the “best” high schools is standardized test scores; since the top high schools are those which adequately prepare their students for college or a career, it makes sense that those schools should also have the highest ACT scores. (ACT scores are often a reliable indicator of college- and career-readiness.) This article looks at general trends in Alabama’s 2023 ACT scores with a focus on the top high schools across the state.

In the 2022 graduating class, 53,258 Alabama students took the ACT; their mean composite score was an even 18 out of a possible 36. This is only about 400 fewer students than 2020’s graduating class, which scored a mean composite of 18.9. Nationally, the average composite score for the class of 2022 was 19.8 (down from 2020’s mean composite of 20.6).

(Top image caption—Loveless Academic Magnet Program (LAMP) High School has some of Alabama’s highest average ACT scores)

Since 2015, Alabama has administered the ACT to all high school juniors; this requirement means that the state’s data is remarkably complete. In 2023, it was one of 6 states where an estimated 100% of graduates took the ACT; among these, it ranked fourth, ahead of Mississippi (17.8) and Nevada (17.3). Of the states with 100% participation, Wyoming had the highest average score (19.2) with Tennessee close behind (18.6).

It’s worth noting that in general, states with higher testing levels tend to have lower average scores. One main reason for this is that they include results from students whose future plans may not include college-level coursework. In states where standardized testing like the ACT is optional, test-takers are primarily a self-selecting, academically advanced cohort, which is reflected in their test scores. Consider, for example, Washington D.C., which had 2022’s highest average ACT scores in the nation (26.9), but administered tests to only 18% of graduates.

ACT College Readiness Benchmarks for High School Seniors

The ACT’s “College Readiness Benchmarks” are the scores (out of 36) on the subject area tests that indicate a student’s chances of college success. The ACT believes that meeting the benchmarks for English, Reading, Mathematics, and Science gives a student a 50% chance of earning a B or higher or a 75% chance of getting a C or higher in a corresponding freshman-level college course. Unchanged since 2013, these benchmark scores and their college course equivalents are:

  • English (English Composition) – 18
  • Reading (Social Sciences) – 22
  • Math (College Algebra) – 22
  • Science (Biology) – 23

Since 2015, the ACT has also offered a College Readiness Benchmark for coursework in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math), based on scores on the Math & Science subject area tests. Because college-level STEM coursework tends to be more academically challenging (for instance, many STEM freshmen begin with Calculus instead of Algebra), ACT has determined that the benchmark ACT score is significantly higher for STEM than in other subject areas. Meeting the STEM benchmark indicates a 50% chance of earning a B or higher in identified college-level STEM courses. The benchmark score is: Math & Science (STEM) – 26

Half of Alabama High School Juniors are Not College-Ready

Dispiritingly, Alabama’s Class of 2022 lags behind the national average for students meeting ACT College Readiness Benchmarks (CRBs) by at least 10% in all subject areas. Alabama’s students are most college-ready in English, but even there, only about 40% of graduates met the CRB (down more than 7% since last year). The numbers are significantly lower in other subject areas: just under 30% of students met the Reading benchmark, and less than a fourth are college-ready in Math (16.9%) and Science (20.6%).

2022’s results follow a long-term trend of gradually decreasing college-readiness among Alabama students. Only 12.5% of graduates met college benchmarks in all subject areas, down 2.5% from last year (and down 5.2% since 2019). In the last eight years, Alabama juniors’ scores peaked in 2017 and have consistently fallen since (save for the class of 2019, who scored slightly higher in all subject areas than their 2018 counterparts). 2022 scores have had a steep drop from 2021—Alabamians have a long way to go in order to reach pre-pandemic ACT score levels.

Alabama’s Racial & Economic Achievement Gaps

Nationally, there is a concerning correlation between a student’s racial background and their likelihood of succeeding on the ACT. In general, Asian Americans have the highest rates of success, followed by white students. Students who identify as Black or African American score the lowest (Hispanic students, and students of other races, score somewhere in the middle.) It is important to emphasize that this is not a causative relationship. Black students do not score worse than white students, on average, because they are Black; rather, it is that many factors which negatively impact ACT scores tend to disproportionately affect non-white (and non-Asian) students.

Alabama’s 2022 results reveal a similar racial achievement gap. While over 55% of Asian students and 28% of white students met three or more College Readiness Benchmarks, only 5.3% of Black graduates and 11.6% of Latinos did so. The continuing underperformance by Black students is particularly concerning because they make up a significant percentage of Alabama’s senior class: Black students comprise 24%. (The largest group, white students, makes up 53%; the mostly high-achieving Asian students make up less than 2% of graduates). To put it in terms of concrete numbers, if Alabama wanted to close the achievement gap between white and Black graduates, they would need to improve the scores of around 3,000 Black students.

In addition to a student’s race, their economic status is often closely related to their ACT performance. Nationwide, the achievement gap between students whose family income is less than $36,000 a year (classified as “low income”) and those whose family income exceeds that amount is very wide: when comparing students who met three or more CRBs, nearly 20 percentage points separate the two groups.

In Alabama this gap is somewhat smaller, at just under 15 percentage points, but of great concern is the fact that only 8.7% of low-income students are meeting 3 or more CRBs. (Nationwide, that figure is around 15%.)

How to Improve ACT Scores

Luckily for students of all racial and economic backgrounds looking to increase their chances of ACT success, there are several actions they can take which are statistically likely to improve their scores.

  1. Focus on schoolwork and take academically challenging classes. Students who do better in school nearly always do better overall on standardized tests like the ACT. For instance, 2020 Alabama seniors who took a full four years of English scored an average of 5.5 points better on the English ACT than those who had taken less than four years of English classes.
  2. Take the ACT more than once.There is a clear statistical advantage to retesting, even according to the ACT; in 2020, the average composite score of Alabama students who took the ACT two or more times was 21.8, nearly 6 points higher than the average composite score (16) of those who took the test only once. Students worried about the cost of retesting should consider ACT’s fee waiver program, which allows eligible students to test for free.
  3. Spend time studying and preparing specifically for the ACT. Taking practice tests helps students familiarize themselves with the content and the format of the test and gives them specific feedback. In addition, working with a tutor can be an effective way of improving a student’s weakest areas and developing test-taking strategies. Piqosity offers a full suite of free ACT Practice materials and analyses of previously-released ACT tests, perfect for students wondering how to improve their ACT scores.

Alabama’s Colleges are Popular and Affordable

If the class of 2022 is anything like their 2020 predecessors, a majority of them aspire to a minimum of a four-year bachelor’s degree, and a majority likely want to remain within the borders of the Heart of Dixie. (Note: about 54% of Alabama’s 2022 Senior Class did not indicate their post-secondary educational plans). Of the seniors that sent their scores to colleges, over 95% of them sent their ACT score reports to public in-state colleges; their top five selections were:

Admission to these schools is fairly competitive, but still attainable. For instance, a 2019 analysis of the average ACT scores of accepted students at Alabama colleges found that students could expect to be admitted to Troy University with an ACT Composite Score of 21. (For reference, in 2019 a majority of students at 29 Alabama high schools met this benchmark).

Students looking for a slightly lower benchmark might consider Alabama State University or Alabama A&M University, both of which generally admit applicants with an ACT Composite Score of 18 or higher. (A majority of graduates from 182 high schools met this benchmark.)

What’s more, Alabama colleges are well within the financial reach of many students—for instance, all of the five schools listed above rank within the Top 10 Most Affordable Colleges at which to obtain a bachelor’s degree.

Best High Schools in Alabama by ACT Scores

The following table presents data from 361 Alabama high schools for which full data was available. Scores presented here are from then-11th graders who took the ACT in 2021 (most of whom then graduated as part of the class of 2022). Loveless Academic, Mountain Brook, and Vestavia Hills have remained the top 3 best Alabama high schools by ACT scores since at least 2019.

Top 10 Alabama High Schools by 2022 Average ACT Scores (composite)

  1. Loveless Academic Magnet Program High School (28.6)
  2. Mountain Brook High School (24.9)
  3. Vestavia Hills High School (24.4)
  4. New Century Technology High School (23.2)
  5. Homewood High School (22.7)
  6. James Clemens High School (22.3)
  7. Oak Mountain High School (22.1)
  8. Bob Jones High School (21.9)
  9. Spain Park High School (21.8)
  10. Auburn High School (21.6)

How to Read This Sortable Table

  • The default sort is by composite score from highest to lowest; to change the sorting order, click on the header by which you want to sort.
  • “Avg Composite” is the composite ACT score from 0 to 36.
wdt_ID District Name School Name Avg. Composite
1 Montgomery County Loveless Academic Magnet Program High School 28.60
2 Mountain Brook City Mountain Brook High School 24.90
3 Vestavia Hills City Vestavia Hills High School 24.40
4 Huntsville City New Century Technology High School 23.20
5 Homewood City Homewood High School 22.70
6 Madison City James Clemens High School 22.30
7 Shelby County Oak Mountain High School 22.10
8 Madison City Bob Jones High School 21.90
9 Hoover CIty Spain Park High School 21.80
10 Auburn City Auburn High School 21.60
11 Huntsville City Huntsville High School 21.30
12 Montgomery County Brewbaker Technology Magnet High School 21.00
13 Trussville City Hewitt-Trussville High School 20.90
14 Hoover CIty Hoover High School 20.80
15 Montgomery County Booker T Washington Magnet High School 20.60
16 Hartselle City Hartselle High School 20.60
17 Shelby County Chelsea High School 20.50
18 Baldwin County Fairhope High School 20.40
19 Winfield City Winfield High School 20.40
20 Arab City Arab High School 20.20
21 Mobile County WP Davidson High School 20.20
22 Tuscaloosa City Northridge High School 20.20
23 Coffee County Kinston School 20.10
24 Shelby County Helena High School 20.10
25 Baldwin County Spanish Fort High School 20.10
District Name School Name Avg. Composite

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