(WHNT) — The average ACT score across the nation is the lowest its been in more than 30 years, according to new data released Wednesday.

The national average ACT composite score was 19.8 out of 36 for the class of 2022, marking the first time since 1991 that the average score dropped below 20.

“This is the fifth consecutive year of declines in average scores, a worrisome trend that began significantly before the disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic and has persisted,” said ACT CEO Janet Godwin in a Wednesday press release.

What’s more, an increasing number of high school students failed to meet any of the subject-area benchmarks set by the ACT — showing a decline in preparedness for college-level coursework.

The test scores, made public in a report Wednesday, show that 42% of ACT-tested graduates in the class of 2022 met none of the subject benchmarks in English, reading, science and math, which are indicators of how well students are expected to perform in corresponding college courses.

In comparison, 38% of test takers in 2021 failed to meet any of the benchmarks.

The lowest ACT composite score in the nation went to Nevada at 17.3, according to the latest data. The highest composite score went to the District of Columbia at 26.9, followed by California at 26.5.

“The magnitude of the declines this year is particularly alarming, as we see rapidly growing numbers of seniors leaving high school without meeting the college-readiness benchmark in any of the subjects we measure,” Godwin continued. “These declines are not simply a byproduct of the pandemic. They are further evidence of longtime systemic failures that were exacerbated by the pandemic.”

She added that a “return to the pre-pandemic status quo would be insufficient and a disservice to students and educators.”

“These systemic failures require sustained collective action and support for the academic recovery of high school students as an urgent national priority and imperative,” Godwin concluded.

To see more highlights from this year’s ACT report, visit act.org.

The number of students taking the ACT has declined 30% since 2018, as graduates increasingly forgo college and some universities no longer require admissions tests. But participation plunged 37% among Black students, with 154,000 taking the test this year.

Standardized tests such as the ACT have faced growing concerns that they’re unfair to the minority and low-income students, as students with access to expensive test prep or advanced courses often perform better.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.