ACT: Nearly half of high school students using AI tools, on class assignments

One ominous correlation ACT found was students' AI tool use was significantly related to their academic achievement.

It’s now a little over a year that ChatGPT, the popular generative AI tool, has swept K12 and higher education into deep reflection on the nature of classroom teaching and student code of conduct. With AI likely going nowhere except deeper into students’ academic toolkits, researchers from ACT have recently helped paint a forecast showing how equipped high schoolers are with the technology.

Studying over 4,000 students in grades 10 to 12 this past summer, ACT discovered that 46% have used different AI tools. Of this cohort, nearly half (46%) have used it for school assignments. They were used most commonly in language arts, social studies and science classes. Despite their use, the majority of the students surveyed reported that their teachers did not allow the use of AI for schoolwork, the report found.

ChatGPT was the most commonly used tool by far, taking up 83% of AI-savvy students. Dall-E-2 (17%) and Bing Chat (11%) comprised the second and third-most used tools.

One ominous correlation ACT found was students’ AI tool use was significantly related to their academic achievement. Students with higher composite scores were likelier to use AI tools than those with lower scores. For example, 53% of students scoring in the top quarter compared to other respondents used AI tools. Comparatively, only 36% used these tools in the bottom quarter.

Students with lower scores were considerably more likely than those with higher scores to report not using AI tools due to lack of access and information, strengthening calls by the Department of Education to limit the digital divide and the importance of establishing robust guardrails.

“As AI matures, we need to ensure that the same tools are made available to all students so that AI doesn’t exacerbate the digital divide,” ACT CEO Janet Godwin said. “It’s also imperative that we establish a framework and rules for AI’s use so that students know the positive and negative effects of these tools as well as how to use them appropriately and effectively.”

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Students exhibit concern about AI

Of the 54% of students who reported not using AI tools, the most common reason was a lack of interest. Aligning with faculty, about two-thirds of these students also expressed a distrust in the results the tool provides.

“A majority of the students who didn’t use AI tools were either uninterested in or distrusted the results that the tools provided,” explained Jeff Schiel, a lead research scientist at ACT and one of the report’s authors. “Even students who used the tools for school assignments found that they were far from perfect, as a majority reported errors or incorrect information within the responses that AI provided. This shows that as knowledge and awareness of these tools grow, information about how to use them correctly is just as important.”

The skepticism fueled 42% of respondents to say schools should ban AI tools. Only 10% said they were considering using it to write their college admissions essay due to negative consequences, dishonesty, quality of writing and its lack of an authentic voice.

“Students are already exploring how they can use AI,” said Godwin, “but there is real skepticism about its ability to create work in which students can be confident.”

Alcino Donadel
Alcino Donadel
Alcino Donadel is a DA staff writer and Florida Gator alumnus. A graduate in journalism and communications, his beats have ranged from Gainesville's city development, music scene, and regional little league sports divisions. He has triple citizenship from the U.S., Ecuador, and Brazil.

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