Tennessee’s ACT average dips for the first time since 2013

The average ACT score went down slightly with Tennessee’s Class of 2019, the first time since 2013 that the state’s performance hasn’t climbed, according to results released on Monday.

Public school students finished with an overall average of 20 on a scale of 36, down from 20.2 last year and mirroring a national slump on ACT results.

But almost 42% of this year’s graduating class who took the national college entrance exam earned a score of 21 or higher, making them eligible for the state’s HOPE scholarship.

Tennessee’s decline, while small, halted the slow but steady upward march that leaders have hoped will reach 21 by 2020, where the national average has hovered.

Average scores decreased in subjects across the board:

  • 19.6 in English, down 0.1 from 2018
  • 19.4 in math, down 0.1
  • 20.5 in reading, down 0.2
  • 20.0 in science, down 0.3

Declines occurred in all four of Tennessee’s urban districts:

  • Shelby County Schools, 17.5, down from 17.8
  • Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools, 18.5, down from 18.9
  • Knox County Schools, 21.1, down from 21.4
  • Hamilton County Schools, 19.6, down from 19.9

For the fourth year in a row, Germantown Municipal School District, in suburban Shelby County, recorded the state’s highest average composite. Its 26.3 average also representated a record high statewide.

Van Buren County Schools, which lies between Nashville and Knoxville, made the state’s largest gains, raising its average composite by 1.7 points to 18.9.

Additionally, seven of 16 districts located in distressed rural counties showed average composite gains: Jackson County Schools, Scott County Schools, Clay County Schools, Fentress County Schools, Lake County Schools, Lauderdale County Schools, and McNairy County Schools. 

Improving ACT performance has been a major objective for the last five years in Tennessee, where college entrance scores mostly languished before the state launched a targeted strategy to up its game and added the national test as a measure of district accountability. As of last year, the state’s average score had increased by more than a full point since 2011.

Tennessee is the only state that pays for its students to take the exam twice and — unlike the national report that is based on most recent test performance and private school performance as well — uses public school students’ best scores from multiple tries, just as colleges do when determining admittance, course placement, or scholarship awards.

The Class of 2019 was the third group to get a free do-over on the ACT, with the vast majority of students taking advantage of that opportunity in the fall of their senior year. Of those, nearly 50 percent increased their overall score. Additionally, 3,825 raised their composite score to a 21 or higher, allowing them to access more than $61 million in HOPE Scholarship funds. 

In all, 63,829 students from the Class of 2019 took the ACT. That represents a 98 percent participation rate, which is an all-time high.

“More Tennessee students than ever before are taking advantage of the ACT and ACT retake,” Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn said in a statement. “It is critical that we continue to increase access to these high-quality opportunities for all students, no matter where they live.”

 You can look up more ACT results here.