The effect of higher state standards and more students tested has, as state officials predicted, resulted in lower ACT scores for Science Hill High School students who graduated in May.
Johnson City’s crop of 2011 graduates’ composite ACT score dropped to 21.7 points, compared to last year’s score of 22.9 points. That still was good enough to surpass both the state and national cores of 19.5 and 21.1, respectively.
Washington County Schools’ graduates composite score matched the state average, while Elizabethton City School System graduates bested that average by a point at 20.5. Carter and Unicoi counties’ scores were not immediately available.
Only Mississippi posted a lower composite score of 18.7, meaning Tennessee continues to hang at the very bottom of the U.S. in ACT scores.
The ACT is a national college admission and placement examination. Its benchmarks, which are based on actual grades earned by students in college, specify the minimum scores needed on each ACT subject-area test (English, mathematics, reading and science) to indicate that a student has a 50 percent chance of earning a grade of B or higher or about a 75 percent chance of earning a C or higher in a typical credit-bearing first-year college course in that subject area.
Two years ago, the state put in place the Tennessee Diploma Project, which added much tougher educational standards, especially in the subjects of math and science. The bar was set higher to bring high school graduates to a new level of competitive readiness, whether that be for college or entry into a career.
“These scores are not unexpected,” said Janie Snyder, Johnson City Schools’ secondary and student services director. “Standards have risen, and state officials warned that we would see lower scores. We have 71 more students and a broader spectrum of students than ever tested before.”
Johnson City’s high school grads also scored lower in each subject compared to the previous year: English, 21.4/22.3; math, 21.9/22.5; reading, 21.8/23.0; and science, 21.4/22.0.
In 2009, the rigor of curriculum increased, as did overall graduation standards. The number of high school students who were scored also increased from 396 in 2010 to 467 this May. The latest scores came from students who were in 10th grade when the standards shot up.
All students will take tests in the 8th and 10th grades to measure whether they are on track to meet Tennessee’s college and career-ready graduation requirements. These pre-tests identify gaps in learning early and allow ample time for additional instruction so students can remain on track to graduate. Students will also take a college-readiness test — either the SAT or ACT — in the 11th grade.
Snyder said results help clue teachers and administrators into how the test measures skills and vice versa, how the test relates to the curriculum, what skills students already know and what they need to learn.
“This year’s juniors — the class of 2013 — will have had the high-level classes behind them, which should increase the chances for better ACT scores,” she said. “Students are tested for progress beginning in the eighth grade. We can look at the students we know will be taking the ACTs and see what their scores have been and how they may fare.”
Meanwhile, Washington County Schools’ 2011 graduates received a composite score of 19.5, up two tenths of a point from last year. Students scored a 19.5 in science, a 19.7 in reading, a 18.9 in math and a 19.2 in English.
Assistant Director of Schools Bill Flanary said the scores are either at, slightly above or slightly below state average. While he said that he is not satisfied with the numbers, he remains encouraged that they will improve in the future.
“We are very encouraged by where we are,” Flanary said. “We are taking steps to get ACT scores up to where they need to be so students have a lot of options.”
The Carter County School System overall and high school-specific scores were not available Wednesday, but Danny McClain, the system’s supervisor of high school education, said ACT scores have been below the state averages mainly from low math scores.
“Math is what hurts our scores, not just on the math portion but in the composite scores,” McClain said. That is changing as students have been required to take more higher level math courses.
The Elizabethton City School System was very pleased with its ACT results, which shows the city students outperformed the state average in all four subjects and was a whole point above the state on the composite, with a 20.5 compared to the state’s 19.5.
It was a much better performance than two years ago, when all juniors were first required to take the ACT.
Superintendent of Schools Ed Alexander said some of the students were not adequately prepared, and the school system’s average suffered.
“We were below the state average in some areas and that about killed me,” Alexander said.
Press staff reporters Heather Richardson and John Thompson contributed to this report.