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2012: 18.9

2011: 18.7


2012: 18.6

2011: 18.4


2012: 18.6

2011: 18.3


2012: 19.2

2011: 18.9


2012: 18.9

2011: 18.8

Source: Hamilton County Schools

Hamilton County students taking the ACT college entrance exam in 2012 saw another year of growth and improved scores in every tested subject area.

The county's students marked an average composite score of 18.9 on the 36-point test, up from last year's score of 18.7. But the county's results, released today, are still below the state average.

"We're pleased that we're seeing a positive trend," said Kirk Kelly, director of testing and accountability for the county school system. "This is the highest our numbers have been in three years."

Even with similar incremental statewide improvement, results show Tennessee still ties for second-to-last in the nation in overall scores.

Tennessee's average composite score of 19.7 is up from last year's overall score of 19.5, according to ACT results. The national average ACT score held steady at 21.1.

Tennessee's statewide score this year is the same composite score as Arizona and the District of Columbia. Only Mississippi did worse with a composite score of 18.7.

"It's going to take year after year of these incremental gains to see Tennessee students exhibiting the high levels of achievement we know they can reach," state Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman said in a statement.

Georgia students scored an average of 20.7 in 2012, up from last year's 20.6 composite score.

Unlike state assessments, the ACT is a uniform national test, making it easier to compare state to state, and educators view it as important in measuring how well students are prepared for college.

David Mansouri, director of advocacy and communications at the State Collaborative on Reforming Education, characterized Tennessee's incremental improvement as "a step in the right direction." But the state's overall performance highlights the need for education reforms such as tougher curriculum and a move to uniform Common Core standards, he said.

"The numbers really underscore the importance of the move to increase and raise academic standards in the state," Mansouri said.

Common Core teaching standards are considered more rigorous and universal than previous state standards. Tennessee is implementing Common Core math and language arts standards over the next few years. So far, 45 states and the District of Columbia have committed to Common Core.

Tennessee is one of nine states in which nearly all students took the ACT exam in 2012. In many other states, only the highest achieving students who are likely headed to college take it. Seven of those other eight states all performed higher than Tennessee, with only Mississippi finishing lower.

This year's scores represent those from the class of 2012. All students would have taken the test in the 11th grade, but ACT's report counts only their most recent score, officials said.

Statewide results also include results from private school students. Tennessee's average score of public-only students in 2012 was 19.2, up from 19 last year, said Kelli Gauthier, spokeswoman for the Tennessee Department of Education. While upward trends are positive, she said an improvement of 0.2 isn't enough.

"I would not call it a significant improvement," Gauthier said. "It's not time to hang up your hats and say, 'The work is done.' But at the same time, we do have to celebrate and we do have to acknowledge success."

ACT results show that more Tennessee students are meeting college-ready benchmarks, though that growth is also modest. ACT calculates those benchmarks based on the minimum score needed in a subject to indicate a 50 percent chance of obtaining a B or higher in a corresponding college class, or about a 75 percent chance of obtaining a C or higher.

Fewer than half of Tennessee's students are prepared for college-level math, science and reading courses, while 59 percent are prepared for a college-level English course, the report shows. The percentage of state test takers meeting all of ACT's college readiness benchmarks rose from 15 to 16 percent.

Results are even worse for racial minorities. Only 3 percent of black students and 9 percent of Hispanic students met all four benchmarks, compared to 18 percent of white students and 31 percent of Asian students.