The Center Square [By Vivian Jones]-
Tennessee’s Department of Education has reported the lowest statewide average composite ACT score in five years, and the score was not affected significantly by the COVID-19 pandemic, according to test company officials.
The average score among the 97% of Tennessee graduates who took the ACT was 19.9 – one-tenth of a point lower than last year’s average and the lowest since 2016.
“Despite so many changes and challenges during 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 in a statement.
ACT officials, however, said most 2020 Tennessee graduates took the ACT as juniors in 2019 before the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The school closures and reduced testing opportunities due to the COVID-19 pandemic are considered to have had a minimal impact on the 2020 graduating class, as most students participated in ACT testing before closures began,” ACT spokesperson Tarah DeSousa told The Center Square in an email.
ACT estimated the number of ACT test takers in Tennessee decreased by 0.6% this year because of COVID-19, minimally affecting the overall 2020 results. Officials do anticipate scores of the 2021 graduating class may see a larger effect because of COVID-19 as a result of changes in education and testing opportunities.
The statewide average score of 19.9 falls short of a goal set in 2015 by then-Education Commissioner Candice McQueen to raise the average ACT score to 21 by 2020. After a setback in 2013, the average rose steadily to an all-time high average of 20.2 reported in 2018. Under the Lee administration, the average steadily has declined.
According to data from ACT, the percentage of Tennessee graduates meeting benchmarks in English, reading, math and science has declined slightly since 2018.
Average ACT scores aren’t falling only in Tennessee. According to ACT, the national average composite score in 2020 was 20.6 – the lowest it’s been in 10 years.
“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,” Schwinn said.
Per state law, all public school students are required to take the ACT or SAT before graduation. More than 62,500 graduates took the ACT during the 2019-2020 school year, even though mandatory testing, including ACT preparation, was waived by the federal government because the COVID-19 pandemic.