ACT SCORES SHOW STATE’S CHALLENGE
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.