With all the recent conversation about ACT scores, you would think the facts would be well established, but we keep reading ACT stories that report the same mistakes. Here are the facts.
Even though the average score in Tennessee and in Nashville remain well below what they should be — and what they will be — strong growth is happening. In Nashville, we saw big gains in the ACT this year, bigger gains than Tennessee saw as a whole. In fact, we were one of the top ten districts in the state for growth and earned 5’s—the top score—for value added. On top of that, Metro students averaged an ACT score almost a full point higher than projections.
That is huge news.
Why? These projections were made four years ago when these students were about to enter high school. That means our high school instruction has improved a great deal over the last four years.
- Projected Mean Score: 17.49
- Actual Mean Score: 18.43
But it’s still not good enough. We want every student to score a 21 or better on the ACT.
Let’s compare Tennessee’s average ACT score to that of Massachusetts:
- MA – 24.1 (the highest in the nation)
- TN – 19.7 (fourth from the bottom in the nation)
Looks pretty dim. But now let’s compare where those scores are coming from in those same two states:
- MA – A quarter of students tested: Those headed to college who choose to take the ACT (and pay for it, study for it, etc).
- TN – All students tested on the ACT: Everyone. Like Tennessee, the other states at the bottom of the rankings have universal testing of high schools students.
Are those playing fields level for comparison? No.
There are those who would argue that shouldn’t matter, that scores are too low in Nashville and Tennessee no matter how you look at it.
They are correct.
Every student in Tennessee takes the ACT. It’s not only used to measure our collective achievement, but it also gets them into a college mindset and assesses whether or not they are prepared for college.
That last part is where we have to do better. We have to better prepare our students for college. Anything less is a disservice to students in our schools.
Let’s go over that part again because it’s important.
No one in Metro Schools believes an 18.4 district average is acceptable. No one in Tennessee believes the 19.7 statewide average is acceptable. Anyone who thinks we are resting on the laurels of incremental score growth is wrong.
When you’re talking district-wide transformation, test scores are always the last piece to move – especially ACT scores. That’s because ACT scores measure the accumulated wealth of years of education.
The recurring obsession with ACT numbers does two things: it unfairly compares states with different populations taking the ACT and gives short shrift to the growth in student achievement and the hard work to make that happen.
The real solution is building stronger high school students who turn into stronger graduates. That starts as soon as they enter kindergarten.
Good thing, then, that we now have a district-level executive guiding instruction for K-12 as one, continuous whole. A unified vision for instruction at every grade level means elementary students will be better prepared for middle school. Middle schoolers will come to high school achieving at higher levels. And eleventh graders will score higher on the ACT.
Good thing, then, that we are moving our top experts in instruction into schools, where they can adapt and guide instruction for individual clusters, schools, classrooms and even students.
The transformation of Nashville’s public schools is ongoing and ever evolving. But it’s driven by – and has always been driven by – the same goal: across the board improvement in academic achievement for all students, by any measure.
Is the ACT important? Of course. Colleges use ACT scores for admissions decisions. Educators rely on them to assess how they are doing and how they can better prepare students for graduation.
But is it the end all, be all of the education conversation? No.
What should be the end all, be all of the education conversation? Everything leading up to the ACT.