Tennessee ACT scores remain static

A student takes a test on a recent day.
photo A student takes a test on a recent day.

ACT composite scores by district:

2015 / 2014Bledsoe County Schools: 19.2 / 18.5Bradley County Schools: 18.8 / 18.9Cleveland City Schools: 18.9 / 19.6Coffee County Schools: 20.0 / 19.2Grundy County Schools: 17.6 / 17.7Franklin County Schools: 18.7 / 18.6Hamilton County Schools: 18.9 / 19.0McMinn County Schools: 18.9 / 18.5Marion County Schools: 18.7 / 18.9Meigs County Schools: 19.2 / 18.5Polk County Schools: 17.9 / 18.1Rhea County Schools: 18.6 / 18.4Sequatchie County Schools: 19.4 / 20.7Source: Tennessee Department of Education

Percentage of students in Tennessee to meet ACT benchmarks:

State / NationalStudents who met all 4 benchmarks: 20% / 28%English: 58% / 64%Math: 30% / 42%Science: 38% / 46%Biology: 29% / 38%Source: ACT 2015 Profile Report

When it comes to ACT scores, high school students haven't shown much improvement nationally in the past four years.

The test is designed to assess college readiness, and ACT Chief Executive Officer Jon Whitmore called this year's scores a "wake-up call," according to The Associated Press. He said the education system must do more to prepare students for college and career, particularly minorities - as white and Asian students continue to dramatically outperform other ethnicities.

In Tennessee, where students are required to take the ACT, they have made minor test score gains in the past four years and continue to trail behind the national average in every tested subject, according to ACT results released Wednesday.

Only about 40 percent of the 1.9 million graduating high school students who took the ACT exam this year showed a "strong readiness" for college in most subject areas. Meanwhile, 31 percent of the tested students aren't meeting readiness levels in any core subject areas.

"We're talking about hundreds of thousands of U.S. high school graduates who won't earn a two- or four-year college degree because they aren't academically prepared to do so," Whitmore said in a statement. "In the increasingly competitive job market, where decent jobs are requiring more advanced skills and training, this is a huge problem."

The test has benchmarks to show if students are prepared for success in college courses. Only 20 percent of students in the Volunteer State met the benchmarks in each of the four tested subjects of English composition, algebra, social studies and biology - an increase of 5 percent since 2011.

The average composite ACT score in Tennessee was 19.8 out of 36 this year, the national average being 21. Students made slight gains from their score of 19.5 in 2011, and officials with the Tennessee Department of Education commended this slow, but steady progress.

"We are proud that our students are continuing to show growth on the ACT," Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen said in a written statement. "A high school diploma is no longer enough to ensure success after graduation."

McQueen said there is an urgent need to prepare students for postsecondary education and to have students on track for college or career. The strategic plan for the Tennessee Department of Education includes the goal of raising the average ACT composite score to 21 by 2020, allowing more students to qualify for the state's HOPE scholarship.

Jamie Woodson, president and CEO of The State Collaborative on Reforming Education, wrote in a statement that "the state is poised for continued strong growth," and that these scores show "Tennessee is moving in the right direction, yet considerable ground remains to be covered."

Across the region, students' scores were slightly below the state average. Hamilton County students earned an average score of 18.9.

Kirk Kelly, the school system's assistant superintendent of testing and accountability, said, "Hamilton County is relatively flat for the ACT Composite over a five-year time frame."

He said the system had an overall increase in 0.2 points since 2011, and a slight decline of .1 point from last year.

"Prior to receiving 2015 ACT results, the district devoted additional resources to support schools' efforts in addressing ACT preparation," Kelly said.

Tennessee's composite ACT score of 19.8 is the sixth lowest in the nation, followed by Alabama which earned a score of 19.1. Students in Georgia tested at the top of the pack among Southern states, receiving a score of 21.0, the national average. However, unlike in Tennessee, Georgia doesn't require graduating students to take the ACT, so it is more likely that college-bound students make up the majority of its ACT-takers.

"Georgia students' ACT performance is on par with the nation and outpaces most other Southern states, and I'm pleased to see that," Georgia's state School Superintendent Richard Woods said in a written statement. He continued to say he expects the state to see continued gains in the years ahead.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

ACT averages in states where all students are tested:

Alabama: 19.1Colorado: 20.7Illinois: 20.7Kentucky: 20.0Louisiana: 19.4Michigan: 20.1Mississippi: 19.0Montana: 20.4North Carolina: 19.0North Dakota: 20.6Tennessee: 19.8Utah: 20.2Source: ACT 201 Profile Report

Contact staff writer Kendi Anderson at kendi.anderson@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6592.