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Director says pandemic impacted locals students’ test scores

By Richard Rourk

According to the Tennessee Department of Education ACT state results, participation remained relatively stable with 62,564 graduates taking the ACT. The state average composite ACT score for the 2019-20 school year was 19.9, which is also relatively stable from the average composite score of 20 for the 2019-2020 graduating class.

The ACT provides an important opportunity for the state to understand students’ college and career readiness and how the state’s schools are preparing the next generation to transition to post-secondary opportunities. Each fall, the department releases statewide ACT results for the most recent graduating class representing each student’s highest ACT score. ACT senior retakes allowed about a third of the 2020 graduating class to increase their highest ACT composite score.

“Despite so many changes and challenges during the 2019-20 school year, we are incredibly proud to report the state’s ACT participation rate held steady for 2020 graduates. This did not happen by accident,” Tennessee Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn said. “While we can all agree that we must continue the work to improve our student’s scores on the ACT, maintaining strong participation this year is a testament to the hard work of our districts, schools and educators across the state in supporting their students through an unprecedented pandemic.” 

Although the state and the federal government waived mandatory testing, including ACT participation, due to COVID-19, the rate of Tennessee students taking the ACT remained relatively stable, with a one percentage point decrease between 2019 (98 percent participation, 63,829 graduates) and 2020 (97 percent participation, 62,564 graduates). Twenty-seven districts had 100 percent participation rates for the ACT. 

However, fewer districts submitted appeals this year, only 1,107 appeals were received this year, down from 2,094 appeals in 2019, which may contribute to the slight decline in the statewide composite score. The ACT appeals process allows districts to resolve ACT data issues in line with federal and state guidelines. According to the 2019-20 ACT scorecard, COVID-19, school closures occurred in the spring of 2020. This required the following legislation and policies to be put in place to waive testing requirements both at the state and federal levels. Additionally, COVID-19 caused significant disruptions to in-person learning in the spring, which could have also affected performance due to limited opportunities for re-take and fewer ACT support programs. The department uses students’ best ACT score, meaning that if a student took the ACT multiple times, the score included in the results reflect his or her highest score. This is different than ACT’s calculation, which reports results based on the last score a student received and includes results from private school students.

Access the 2019-20 ACT participation rate data here, under the Additional Data heading: 

The average ACT score for the public school graduating class of 2020 in each subject area was: 

• 19.5 in English, 0.1 point decrease from the graduating cohort of 2019. 

• 19.2 in math, 0.2 point decrease.

• 20.5 in reading, equal to 2019. 

• 19.9 in science, 0.1 point decrease.

According to the Tennessee Department of Education ACT state results, Unicoi County High School’s average ACT scores for 2020 were:

• 19.3 in English.

• 19.3 in math.

• 20.2 in reading.

• 19.5 in science .

According to Unicoi County Director of Schools John English, this year’s numbers are a drop from last year’s numbers and COVID-19 may have played a factor in that decline.

“We did drop a little from last year’s scores and we are disappointed in that,” English said. “Although we are on par with the state numbers, we always strive higher. ACT scores are so important to a student’s ability to receive funding for college and we strive for 20s across the board. One area that hit us hard was not having the ability to retest. Every year in the spring, students have the opportunity to retest if they are not happy with their score and unfortunately due to COVID-19, that opportunity took a hit.”

College Ready Benchmarks are developed by ACT from research linking ACT subject scores to performance in the correlated course in college. These benchmark scores are 18 for English, 22 for math, 22 for reading, and 23 for science. 

The average highest ACT composite score has been relatively stable over the last five years, hovering around 20.0, according to the Tennessee Department of Education ACT state results. However, the percent of students in the cohort who score a 21 or higher has been declining in recent years, which can be seen across student groups. 

The percent of students meeting these college readiness benchmarks has fallen slightly in recent years, except for English – where the state saw an increase 0.4 percentage points this year but was still 1.7 points below 2018. 

ACT results serve as a nationally-normed measure to indicate college and career readiness. Under Tennessee’s accountability model, earning a 21 on the ACT is one of the four ways that students can indicate that they are prepared for life after high school and a seamless entry into postsecondary education, the workplace or the military.