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ACT scores in Tenn. rise, but most students still far from college-ready

Gov. Bill Haslam greets Nashville-area community college students to launch Tennessee Promise in 2014.
Gov. Bill Haslam greets Nashville-area community college students to launch Tennessee Promise in 2014.
Grace Tatter

Tennessee’s ACT scores improved more last year than they have for a decade, the state department of education announced Tuesday.

Tennessee’s composite ACT score for public school students rose from 19.0 to 19.3, on a scale of 36. To be considered college-ready, students must score a 21.

Although the less-than one point jump seems small, Jon Erickson, ACT’s president of education and career solutions, said that a jump that size was “unusual and impressive” compared to other states.

The state’s low average ACT scores are a lynchpin of Gov. Bill Haslam’s and education commissioner Kevin Huffman’s call for urgency in improving the state’s public schools. Although Tennessee students have improved more than any other state on NAEP, a national assessment, Huffman has pointed to ACT scores as proof that more needs to be done to improve schools on numerous occasions.

After addressing the senior class at Antioch High School Wednesday about Tennessee Promise, a program that allows students to attend the first two years of community college for free, Gov. Bill Haslam echoed that sentiment. He said that although community college is more accessible than ever for Tennesseans, ACT scores show many are not ready for college, free or not.

“One of the critical things is not only to have students apply and get in [to community college], but have them actually complete,” he said. “And there’s a way better chance of them completing if they’re actually prepared when they get there.”

He said the jump was proof that the reforms undertaken during his tenure as governor, which include more accountability and new standards, are working, and hopes that the reforms won’t get undone.

“We see the NAEP results that we had last year, we see the ACT numbers move like that — those sorts of things don’t just happen,” he said.

Correction: This original story gave the wrong range of the ACT. The highest a student can score is a 36.

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