Chattanooga Times Free Press - - OPINION -

More than 62,000 stu­dents grad­u­ated from Tennessee pub­lic high schools in 129 school dis­tricts in 2017. How­ever, only four of those dis­tricts man­aged to post a col­lege-ready av­er­age score in all four ACT sub­jects.

So while Com­mis­sioner of Ed­u­ca­tion Candice McQueen can rightly point to a healthy im­prove­ment in av­er­age ACT scores across the state, in­clud­ing Hamil­ton County, more work re­mains to be done.

The Hamil­ton County school dis­trict im­proved twice as much on its av­er­age ACT score from 2016 to 2017 as it did from 2013 to 2016. Eight-tenths of a point may not seem like much, but the last four years of scores even in­cluded one year when dis­trict scores wors­ened from the pre­vi­ous year.

In ris­ing to a dis­trict ACT com­pos­ite score av­er­age of 19.9, lo­cal stu­dents reached the state com­pos­ite score av­er­age — of a year ago. For­tu­nately, the state com­pos­ite score av­er­age im­proved to 20.1 in 2017, so Hamil­ton County still has that rung to reach. But if the dis­trict im­proves in 2018 as it did this year, it is likely to meet and ex­ceed the state com­pos­ite score av­er­age.

The na­tional av­er­age com­pos­ite score is also one to shoot for. It im­proved in 2017 from 20.8 to 21.

New Hamil­ton County Schools Su­per­in­ten­dent Dr. Bryan John­son has re­peat­edly said it is his goal that Hamil­ton County be­come the “fastest-im­prov­ing dis­trict in the state.”

This year’s scores should give us all hope things are on the up­swing.

In­deed, ACT scores in 19 of 21 high school pro­grams im­proved, in­clud­ing in­creases of more than 1 point (out of a pos­si­ble score of 36) at Brain­erd (1.6), Chat­tanooga High Cen­ter for Cre­ative Arts (1), East Hamil­ton (1.4), East Ridge (1.1), Hix­son (1.2), Look­out Val­ley (2.4), Red Bank (1), Sale Creek (1.9), STEM School of Chat­tanooga (3.1, the dis­trict leader) and Tyner Academy (1.4).

Train­ing stu­dents to achieve col­lege readi­ness in the four ACT sub­ject ar­eas also is no doubt on the mind of dis­trict ad­min­is­tra­tors. To do that, stu­dents must meet a spe­cific bench­mark score in each of the sub­ject ar­eas. The bench­mark score, ACT of­fi­cials claim, in­di­cates stu­dents are likely able to make a “C” or bet­ter in a col­lege class in that sub­ject area.

Not all stu­dents will — or should — go to col­lege, but the level of train­ing in ev­ery school across the state should give any stu­dent who wants to that abil­ity.

In Hamil­ton County, stu­dents as a whole met or ex­ceeded the na­tional ACT bench­marks only in English. They were 1.6 points below the na­tional bench­mark in read­ing, 2.6 below it in math and 2.8 below it in science.

Among in­di­vid­ual schools, Chat­tanooga High Cen­ter for Cre­ative Arts, Hamil­ton County Col­le­giate High and Sig­nal Moun­tain ex­ceeded the na­tional bench­marks in each sub­ject, and STEM School of Chat­tanooga was one-tenth of a point in read­ing from do­ing so.

Ten high schools did not reach or ex­ceed the na­tional bench­marks in any sub­ject.

Brain­erd High and The Howard School, both of which would be part of John­son’s an­nounced spe­cial-fo­cused Op­por­tu­nity Zone, had the dis­trict’s low­est scores in all four sub­ject ar­eas. Brain­erd, which has been on the state’s pri­or­ity schools list (the low­est 5 per­cent on stan­dard­ized tests), edged Howard in av­er­age ACT com­pos­ite score (Brain­erd 15.6, Howard 15.5) this year.

The only South­east Tennessee dis­trict con­sid­ered col­lege-ready in two sub­ject ar­eas was Richard City, which con­sists of only one high school, Richard Hardy Me­mo­rial School, in South Pitts­burg.

Across the state, five dis­tricts were deemed col­lege-ready in two sub­ject ar­eas, one in three and four in four (Col­lierville, Ger­man­town City, Maryville and Wil­liamson).

Col­lierville and Ger­man­town City are two of the dis­tricts that left the Shelby County (Mem­phis) School Dis­trict in 2012 and formed their own dis­tricts. That is the route the town of Sig­nal Moun­tain is presently con­sid­er­ing in Hamil­ton County. Maryville tra­di­tion­ally has been a strong aca­demic dis­trict, and Wil­liamson is a wealthy bed­room county south of metro Nash­ville.

Twenty-seven dis­tricts across the state, in­clud­ing the Bled­soe and Rhea County school dis­tricts, were not con­sid­ered col­lege-ready in any of the four sub­ject ar­eas.

The chal­lenge for McQueen, then, is sig­nif­i­cant. While much has been made of her plan for the five lo­cal schools on the state’s list of pri­or­ity schools, the ACT col­lege-readi­ness scores prove stu­dents in ru­ral and ur­ban com­mu­ni­ties, stu­dents in schools with ma­jor­ity white or ma­jor­ity mi­nor­ity pop­u­la­tions, and stu­dents in schools in East, Mid­dle and West Tennessee all need im­prove­ment.

We’re grat­i­fied Tennessee Gov Bill Haslam has placed such a value on ed­u­ca­tion, has cre­ated the Tennessee Prom­ise pro­gram to al­low any­one who de­sires to at­tend com­mu­nity col­leges tu­ition-free and has set aside money for stu­dents to re­take the ACT. Now we just want them to be ready if they get there.

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