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Reflecting on a Year Behind Us, and Looking Ahead


By: Janet Godwin, CEO, ACT

At the beginning of the year, I declared ACT’s commitments for 2021. Today, as we publish our 2021 Year in Review: Bringing Our North Star to Life, I’m reflecting on the year we’ve had.

For more than six decades, ACT has advanced its mission of helping people achieve education and workplace success and playing a part in creating a world where everyone can discover and fulfill their potential. That has been, and will continue to be, our North Star. As the title implies, our snapshot focuses on the ways that every part of ACT is bringing our North Star to life — and how we have done that in the second year of one of the worst global public health crises most of us have ever seen.

The pandemic dramatically upended business as usual — for everyone. Now, ACT is emerging from this extraordinary time with an unwavering commitment and strengthened capacity to fight for fairness in education and create a world where everyone can discover and fulfill their potential.

In 2021, ACT rose to the occasion in support of a world and an education system in crisis. ACT responded nimbly to shifting needs in districts, states, and nations as schools moved to virtual and hybrid learning. Despite all the challenges, more than 1 million students — a record high — took the ACT during state and district school-day testing in the U.S. in the 2020–21 school year. Many of those students will be the first in their families to go to college and earn a degree, and many of them would not have considered college without the opportunity to take the ACT during regular school hours in their own school. Throughout the year I receive news clips about these students from every corner of America, and their stories inspire me. I am also inspired by the regular profiles in hometown papers of the “36ers,” or those students who achieve a 36 Composite score, the highest possible score on the assessment.

In my first year as CEO, I took a listening tour to hear from stakeholders — K12 and higher education leaders; federal, state, and local policymakers; and the students we champion — and to share ACT’s progress on helping students succeed. ACT is eager to work alongside partners to improve education equity and outcomes. We know that we cannot do this work alone. As a nonprofit, nonpartisan education organization with an aspirational mission and high-quality research and data, ACT is a trusted partner and convener, and there is more interest each year in ACT’s report with data on the high school graduating class, which informs education leaders and stakeholders with the most representative dataset of its kind.

ACT conducted and contributed to robust research on urgent challenges in education to inform equitable policies, practices, and results in K–12 and postsecondary education. This included groundbreaking research to underpin recommendations to improve intergenerational mobility, a report on the benefits of social and emotional learning on Latinx students that faced COVID-19 challenges, and research into state and district school-day testing. We also conducted a series of four studies, where ACT researchers investigated how fee waivers are used, capturing student voices on the many reasons for test-day absenteeism. ACT is walking the walk of equity with innovations in testing that make a difference in students’ lives.

Behind the scenes, ACT has also dramatically improved our financial performance. After multiple years ending with an operating loss, we ended Fiscal Year 2021 with positive operating income of $10 million. Our state and district programs are in unprecedented demand. Our international business is in 86 countries and thriving. ACT is financially healthy and sustainable. We’re well-positioned for the future.

Going forward, ACT will continue to be an assessment and information innovator in the U.S. and abroad. We will build on the research that has captured attention during the pandemic, from disrupted learning realities and intergenerational mobility challenges to social and emotional learning supports and student voice insights. We will continue to respond nimbly to new challenges that arise in the field to effectively support students and teachers nationally and internationally. ACT also will be more active in joining forces with organizational and individual allies who have the power, expertise, and sense of responsibility to address today’s demographic, historical, and systemic imperatives.

Thank you to all of you who rose to the many challenges of the past year. We are stronger because of your efforts.

ACT is here to stay — and the best is yet to come.