This week, the Tennessee Department of Education (TDOE) released the ACT state results and participation rate for the 2022 graduating class, two months after national data was released by ACT. The results show that Tennessee is not moving the needle in student outcomes.
Data released by the TDOE show that ACT participation rates returned to pre-pandemic levels of 98 percent. In the two years prior, rates had slipped from 98 percent in 2018-19 to 97 percent in 2019-20, and then 96 percent in 2020-2021. The participation rate increased noticeably among three historically underserved student groups and decreased slightly among one historically underserved student group when comparing the participation rates from 2021 to 2022. Students with disabilities had a 2 percent-point decrease.
To receive a regular high school diploma, all students enrolled in a Tennessee public school during their eleventh (11) grade year must take either the ACT or SAT.
While participation rates are up, the state average composite score remains flat at 19.1 for the 2022 graduating class This was identical to the previous year, which signified a decline from 19.9 for the class of 2019-20. Under Tennessee’s accountability model, earning a 21 on the ACT is one of the four ways students can demonstrate that they are prepared for life after high school and a seamless entry into postsecondary education, the workplace, and the military.
Nationally, the ACT is administered to approximately 1.3 million students – an estimated 36 percent of graduates nationwide – and is used as a qualifier by many on their college applications. When results were released nationally in October, it was noted that national scores had continued a downward trend, a trend that began pre-pandemic. The national average composite score for the graduating class of 2022 was 19.8 out of a possible 36, a decline from 20.3 among the graduating class of 2021.
The number of students meeting 3 0r 4 benchmarks also declined. Dropping from 38 percent in 2017-18 to 32 percent in 2021-22. Some of the declines can be attributed to the challenges presented by COVID, but declines had already begun to take root prior to the pandemic.
“This is the fifth consecutive year of declines in average scores, a worrisome trend that began long before the disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic, and has persisted,” said ACT CEO Janet Godwin. “The magnitude of the declines this year is particularly alarming, as we see rapidly growing numbers of seniors leaving high school without meeting the college-readiness benchmark in any of the subjects we measure. These declines are not simply a byproduct of the pandemic.”
Tennessee appears to be mirroring national trends, though there are bright spots locally.
Looking at the state’s individual districts, Williamson County Schools had the highest percentage of students meeting the overall ACT composite benchmark of 21 (75 percent), followed by Germantown Municipal School District (73 percent) and Collierville Schools (65 percent). While the Alvin C. York Institute demonstrated the highest growth in the percentage of students meeting the overall ACT composite benchmark of 21 with a 13 percentage point increase from 2021 (26 percent) to 2022 (39 percent), followed by Cheatham County Schools (11 percentage points increase) and Cannon County Schools (10 percentage points increase).
Metro Nashville Public Schools received a composite score of 17.4, down slightly from the previous score of 17.7. The district had 1139 students who scored 21 or higher. The majority of graduates – 67 percent – scored under 19.
A score of 19 would likely gain a student entry into Middle Tennessee State University, but make entry into either Belmont or the University of Tennessee a difficult proposition. The number of schools requiring ACT results for admission has declined over the last few years, but most major universities still view it as a defining indicator of a student’s future success.
The suburban districts surrounding Nashville fared similarly, or in some cases, a little better:
|County||Composite Score||Percentage of Students Scoring Under 19|
Tennessee leads the nation in ACT access, offering public high school students the opportunity to take the ACT two times for free during normal school hours. Public school students test once in the spring of their junior year, and then have an opportunity to retake the ACT in the fall of their senior year during normal school hours. Tennessee is unique in this opportunity.
As a result of the ACT senior retake program, Tennessee’s minority, low-income, and underserved students have been able to achieve a two-point increase in average composite scores.
While it remains unclear why the delay of two months between the release of national data and state data it should be noted that prior to releasing data, ACT makes no effort to reconcile scores. ACT’s release includes all schools, including private and homeschoolers, whereas the Tennessee data release does not.
The TDOE’s scores are for the graduating class only, regardless if they graduate or not, and credits them with the highest score they attained. Cleaning up the data is a considerable task. Whether the delay is due to this difficulty or a lack of staffing at the TDOE also remains unclear. Throughout her tenure as Tennessee’s Commissioner of Education, Penny Schwinn has been hounded by questions about staffing.
Over the last year, TCAP scores, district funding projections, and district report cards have all been delivered later than expected. District Textbook adoption cycles have also been delayed. District data arriving this late in the school year makes it difficult for the district to adjust, as the ACT testing dates, October 22, and December 10, have already passed.
The next opportunity for Tennessee students to take the ACT is on February 11, 2023.
– – –
TC Weber is a reporter at The Tennessee Star and The Star News Network. He also writes the blog Dad Gone Wild. Follow TC on Twitter. Email tips to [email protected] He’s the proud parent of two public school children and the spouse of a public school teacher.