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Tennessee’s ACT average dips for second straight year after six years of growth

Female student in classroom, working at desk in Hillcrest High School in Memphis, Tennessee
College and career readiness has been a focus of Tennessee’s education policy in the 21st century, but declines in the state’s average ACT score and graduation rate have been disappointments in 2020.
Karen Pulfer Focht/Chalkbeat

Tennessee’s average ACT score declined slightly for a second straight year, while the number of students taking the college entrance exam also dropped, according to results released Friday.

Public school students in the Class of 2020 finished with an overall average of 19.9 on a scale of 36, down from 20 last year and 20.2 the year before.

The dips, while small, keep Tennessee on a downward trajectory after six years of slow but steady growth on the college entrance exam.

Equally concerning was an across-the-board drop in the percentage of Tennessee students taking the ACT test after record-high participation last year.

About 97% of students participated, down a full percentage point from the Class of 2019. Among historically underserved groups of black, Hispanic, and economically disadvantaged students, the rates went down 2%. Participation by English language learners dropped from 97% to 91%.

While Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn characterized the showing as “relatively stable,” the results are a disappointment for a state that had been closing in on former Gov. Bill Haslam’s goal of reaching the previous national average of 21 by 2020. Just three years earlier, the state celebrated that its ACT average continued to tick upward — in defiance of a national slump — as Tennessee provided students with a free do-over for any student who wanted to retake the exam.

Haslam’s successor, Gov. Bill Lee, has invested more money in vocational education programs to get students ready for college and career. His administration has not identified improving ACT performance as a major strategic goal.

The declines in both scores and participation were not due to disruptions in testing or schooling caused by the coronavirus. Most graduating seniors took the exam during their junior year and had the option of retaking it in the fall of their senior year — months before the pandemic emerged in the U.S.

However, this year’s results don’t bode well for next year’s graduating seniors, whose testing was significantly disrupted by COVID-19. The Class of 2021 mostly took their exams this fall after the ACT’s springtime administration was canceled. Under the state’s retake program, seniors potentially could take the test again in December or next spring.

The latest ACT results represent the second round of recent data showing a decline in postsecondary readiness in Tennessee.

In September, the department reported a dip in Tennessee’s high school graduation rate, even as the state relaxed requirements for seniors to receive their diplomas during the pandemic.

The backsliding in both areas drew a sharp rebuke Friday from JC Bowman, who leads the Professional Educators of Tennessee.

“In less than two years, under this current administration, there has been a lack of focus on postsecondary readiness and measurable objectives,” he said in a statement.

Bowman urged state policymakers to “look at the lack of measurable goals for postsecondary readiness in the Tennessee Department of Education’s strategic plan and ask how they plan to address this in the future.”

The national ACT average now sits at 20.6, the lowest level in 10 years. It’s important to note that Tennessee calculates its average differently by excluding private school students and using students’ highest scores instead of their most recent ones.

Below, use our searchable, sortable table to find your local high school’s average on the college entrance exam.

Tennessee’s 2020 ACT composite scores by school

District Name School Name 2020 Average Composite Score 2019 Average Composite Score
District Name School Name 2020 Average Composite Score 2019 Average Composite Score
Achievement School District Fairley High School 14.5 13.2
Achievement School District Hillcrest High School 15.3 15.5
Achievement School District Martin Luther King Preparatory High School 14.3 15.7
Achievement School District Pathways in Education - TN * 14.6
Achievement School District Pathways in Education - Whitehaven * *
Alcoa Alcoa High School 21.7 21.1
Alvin C York Institute Alvin C. York Institute 19.8 19.3
Anderson County Anderson County High School 19.5 20.1
Anderson County Clinton High School 18.5 18.8
Arlington Arlington High 23 22.8
Bartlett Bartlett High School 21.6 21.5
Bedford County Cascade High School 20.6 20.8
Bedford County Community High School 17.9 19
Bedford County Shelbyville Central High School 18.2 18.3
Benton County Big Sandy School 18.8 17.9
Benton County Camden Central High School 19.5 19.2
Bledsoe County Bledsoe County High School 17.8 18.3
Blount County Heritage High School 19.3 18.8
Blount County Samuel Everett School of Innovation 20.4 *
Blount County William Blount High School 19.7 19.9
Bradford Bradford High School 21.8 21.8
Bradley County Bradley Central High School 18.6 19.3
Bradley County Bradley County Virtual School 18.9 19.7
Bradley County North Cleveland GOAL Academy 14.3 14.8
Bradley County Walker Valley High School 21.1 21.7
Bristol Tennessee High School 21 21.2
Bristol Tennessee Online Public School 22 21.6
Campbell County Campbell County Comprehensive High School 17 18.3
Campbell County Jellico High School 17.1 17.5
Cannon County Cannon County High School 18.9 18.7
Carter County Cloudland High School 18.1 19.2
Carter County Hampton High School 17.7 18.1
Carter County Happy Valley High School 18.5 18.3
Carter County Unaka High School 18.9 18.4
Cheatham County Cheatham Co Central 18.4 18.8
Cheatham County Harpeth High School 21 20.4
Cheatham County Riverside Academy * *
Cheatham County Sycamore High School 19.4 19.6
Chester County Chester County High School 19.7 20.2
Claiborne County Claiborne High School 17.5 18.5
Claiborne County Cumberland Gap High School 19.6 19.3
Clay County Clay County High School 18.3 18.9
Cleveland Cleveland High 20.1 20.5
Cocke County Cocke Co High School 18.2 18.4
Cocke County Cosby High School 18.2 18.6
Coffee County Coffee County Central High School 19.5 19.4
Collierville Collierville High School 24.6 24.7
Crockett County Crockett County High School 19.1 18.8
Cumberland County Cumberland County High School 20.3 20.7
Cumberland County Stone Memorial High School 20.8 20.9
Cumberland County The Phoenix School 14.6 15.5
Davidson County Antioch High School 16.5 17
Davidson County Cane Ridge High School 16.7 16.8
Davidson County Cora Howe School * *
Davidson County East Nashville Magnet High School 17.8 18.5
Davidson County Glencliff High School 16 15.9
Davidson County Hillsboro High 21.6 19.9
Davidson County Hillwood High 17.4 18.9
Davidson County Hume - Fogg High 28.2 28.2
Davidson County Hunters Lane High 16 16
Davidson County John Overton High 17.5 18.1
Davidson County KIPP Nashville Collegiate High School 21.3 21.1
Davidson County Knowledge Academies High School 18.2 17.9
Davidson County Lead Academy 18.9 18.9
Davidson County Maplewood High 14.7 15.2
Davidson County Martin Luther King Jr School 26 26
Davidson County McGavock High 18.6 17.9
Davidson County Middle College High 22.1 23.3
Davidson County MNPS Virtual School 21.4 20.2
Davidson County Nashville Big Picture High School 17.2 20.5
Davidson County Nashville School Of The Arts 21.6 21.8
Davidson County Pearl-Cohn High 14.7 15.2
Davidson County RePublic High School 20 20.3
Davidson County STEM Prep High School 20.3 19.9
Davidson County Stratford STEM Magnet School 17.4 16.9
Davidson County The Academy at Hickory Hollow 15.4 15.5
Davidson County The Academy at Old Cockrill 15.6 16.8
Davidson County The Academy at Opry Mills 16.6 17
Davidson County The Cohn Learning Center *
Davidson County Whites Creek High 15.2 15.4
Decatur County Riverside High School 18.8 19.6
DeKalb County De Kalb County High School 19.4 18.9
Department of Children's Services DCS Affiliated Schools 14.6 16.3
Department of Children's Services Wilder Youth Development Center * 14
Dickson County Creek Wood High School 20.4 19
Dickson County Dickson County High School 20.8 20.2
Dyer County Dyer County High School 20.1 20.7
Dyersburg Dyersburg High School 21.4 20.8
Elizabethton Elizabethton High School 20.3 20.8
Fayette County Public Schools Fayette Ware Comprehensive High School 17.6 17.2
Fayetteville Fayetteville High School 20.1 20.6
Fentress County Clarkrange High School 19.2 20
Franklin County Franklin Co High School 18.5 19.6
Franklin County Huntland School 18.8 19
Germantown Houston High School 25.6 26.3
Gibson Co Sp Dist Gibson County High School 19.6 20.4
Gibson Co Sp Dist South Gibson County High School 21.6 21.8
Giles County Giles Co High School 19.3 18.4
Giles County Richland School 19.5 20.3
Grainger County Grainger Academy * 12.9
Grainger County Grainger High School 19.3 18.5
Grainger County Washburn School 16.7 16.6
Greene County Chuckey Doak High School 18.7 19
Greene County North Greene High School 18.6 18.6
Greene County South Greene High School 18.9 20
Greene County West Greene High School 19 18.2
Greeneville Greeneville High School 21.9 21.9
Grundy County Grundy County High School 17.2 16.9
Hamblen County Morristown East High 19.2 19.6
Hamblen County Morristown West High 20.3 20.5
Hamilton County Brainerd High School 14.9 14.9
Hamilton County Central High School 18.1 18.5
Hamilton County Chatt High Center For Creative Arts 25.2 25.9
Hamilton County Chattanooga Girls Leadership Academy 20.8 19.3
Hamilton County Chattanooga School For Arts And Sciences Upper 24.1 23.5
Hamilton County East Hamilton School 21.6 21.8
Hamilton County East Ridge High School 16.3 16.6
Hamilton County Hamilton County Collegiate High at Chattanooga State 25.7 26.3
Hamilton County Hamilton County High School * 16.5
Hamilton County Hamilton County Virtual School * *
Hamilton County Hixson High School 19.6 18.6
Hamilton County Ivy Academy Inc. 19.3 18.3
Hamilton County Lookout Valley Middle / High School 19.2 19.6
Hamilton County Ooltewah High School 20.2 19.6
Hamilton County Red Bank High School 18.3 18.7
Hamilton County Sale Creek Middle / High School 20.8 19.9
Hamilton County Sequoyah High School 16.2 15.8
Hamilton County Signal Mountain Middle/High School 25.8 25.3
Hamilton County Soddy Daisy High School 21 21.2
Hamilton County STEM School Chattanooga 24 23.6
Hamilton County The Howard School 14.3 14.8
Hamilton County Tyner Academy 15.9 16.6
Hancock County Hancock High School 18.2 17.7
Hardeman County Schools Central High School 17.5 17.9
Hardeman County Schools Middleton High School 18 17.4
Hardin County Hardin County High School 18.5 19
Hawkins County Cherokee High School 18.2 18.6
Hawkins County Clinch School 16.1 *
Hawkins County Volunteer High School 18.8 19.3
Haywood County Haywood High School 16.4 17.2
Henderson County Lexington High School 20.5 20.5
Henderson County Scotts Hill High School 20.2 21.2
Henry County Henry Co High School 20.2 20.7
Hickman County East Hickman High School 18.2 19.2
Hickman County Hickman Co Sr High School 20.3 18.6
Hollow Rock - Bruceton Central High School 19.5 18.8
Houston County Houston Co High School 18.4 18.6
Humboldt City Schools Humboldt Junior/Senior High School 16.5 17.4
Humphreys County Mc Ewen High School 19.1 19.5
Humphreys County Waverly Central High School 19.5 21.2
Huntingdon Special School District Huntingdon High School 19.1 20.7
Jackson County Jackson County High School 18.2 18.7
Jefferson County Jefferson Co High School 19.9 20.1
Johnson City Science Hill High School 22.7 22.7
Johnson County Johnson Co High School 17.7 18.4
Kingsport Dobyns - Bennett High School 22 21.9
Knox County Austin East High/Magnet 16 16.3
Knox County Bearden High School 22.9 23.1
Knox County Career Magnet Academy 20.8 21.5
Knox County Carter High School 18.6 18.8
Knox County Central High School 20.7 20
Knox County Dr. Paul L. Kelley Volunteer Academy 15.5 15.6
Knox County Farragut High School 24.9 24.5
Knox County Fulton High School 16.7 17
Knox County Gibbs High School 19.6 19.8
Knox County Halls High School 20.5 21.8
Knox County Hardin Valley Academy 22.6 22.6
Knox County Karns High School 20 19.9
Knox County Knox Adaptive Education Center * *
Knox County L N STEM Academy 26.5 25.7
Knox County Powell High School 19.6 19.8
Knox County South Doyle High School 19 18.7
Knox County West High School 22.7 22.1
Lake County Lake Co High School 18.1 18.7
Lauderdale County Halls High School 20 19
Lauderdale County Ripley High School 16.3 17
Lawrence County Lawrence Co High School 19.2 19.7
Lawrence County Loretto High School 19.9 19.5
Lawrence County Summertown High School 18.2 18.4
Lenoir City Lenoir City High School 20.3 20
Lewis County Lewis Co High School 19.4 19.1
Lincoln County Lincoln Central Academy *
Lincoln County Lincoln County High School 20.6 20.1
Loudon County Greenback School 19.7 20.2
Loudon County Loudon High School 20.1 19.7
Macon County Macon County High School 19.6 19.6
Macon County Red Boiling Springs School 18.7 18.9
Madison County Jackson Central-Merry Early College High 20 19.8
Madison County Liberty Technology Magnet High School 15.4 15.3
Madison County Madison Academic Magnet High School 25.9 25.5
Madison County North Side High School 16.6 16.8
Madison County South Side High School 17.4 17.5
Marion County Marion Co High School 19.5 20.1
Marion County South Pittsburg High School 19.4 20.2
Marion County Whitwell High School 18.6 18.6
Marshall County Cornersville School 20 21.9
Marshall County Forrest School 20.5 20.8
Marshall County Marshall Co High School 18.6 19.9
Maryville Maryville High School 23.8 23.5
Maury County Columbia Central High School 18.1 19.2
Maury County Culleoka Unit School 18.4 18.9
Maury County Hampshire Unit School 18.8 19.8
Maury County Mt Pleasant High School 19 19.4
Maury County Santa Fe Unit School 20.3 19.8
Maury County Spring Hill High School 19.3 20.2
McKenzie McKenzie High School 20.4 20.5
McMinn County Central High School 19.1 19.3
McMinn County McMinn High School 19.8 20.4
McNairy County Adamsville High School 19.1 19.4
McNairy County McNairy Central High School 19.1 19.4
Meigs County Meigs County High School 18.7 20.3
Milan Milan High School 20.2 20.2
Millington Municipal Schools Millington Central High School 18.8 18.4
Monroe County Sequoyah High School 18.5 18.3
Monroe County Sweetwater High School 18 19.1
Monroe County Tellico Plains High School 19.5 19.3
Montgomery County Clarksville High 20.9 21.5
Montgomery County Kenwood High 17.9 18
Montgomery County Middle College @ Austin Peay State University 25.9 25.5
Montgomery County Montgomery Central High 20.1 19.8
Montgomery County Northeast High 19.2 19.2
Montgomery County Northwest High 18.8 19
Montgomery County Rossview High 22.3 22.3
Montgomery County West Creek High 18.9 19
Moore County Moore County High School 20.6 21.7
Morgan County Central High School 18.3 18.1
Morgan County Coalfield School 17 17.4
Morgan County Morgan County Career and Technical Center 13.2 14.6
Morgan County Oakdale School 16.4 19.5
Morgan County Sunbright School 16.8 17.8
Oak Ridge Oak Ridge High School 22.7 23.3
Obion County Obion County Central High School 19 19.7
Obion County South Fulton Middle / High School 20.2 21.8
Oneida Oneida High School 19.5 19.5
Overton County Livingston Academy 19.6 18.7
Perry County Perry County High School 18.7 17.3
Perry County Perry County Virtual School *
Pickett County Pickett Co High School 20.4 20.4
Polk County Copper Basin High School 19.3 19.3
Polk County Polk County High School 18.5 19.1
Putnam County Cookeville High School 20.3 21.1
Putnam County Monterey High School 18.6 18.5
Putnam County Upperman High School 19.9 19.5
Putnam County VITAL: Upper Cumberland e-Learning Network *
Rhea County Rhea County High School 19 19.3
Richard City Richard Hardy Memorial School 19.2 19.9
Roane County Harriman High School 19.5 19.1
Roane County Midtown Educational Center 14.7 15.3
Roane County Midway High School 20.5 19.8
Roane County Oliver Springs High School 20.6 20.2
Roane County Roane County High School 21 20.9
Roane County Rockwood High School 18.8 19
Robertson County East Robertson High School 18.5 19.2
Robertson County Greenbrier High School 19.7 19.7
Robertson County Jo Byrns High School 19.2 19.5
Robertson County Robertson Co. Virtual School 21.4 *
Robertson County Robertson County Alternative Learning Center 15.9 14.7
Robertson County Springfield High School 18.9 18.3
Robertson County Tennessee Connections Academy 9-12 19.2
Robertson County White House Heritage High School 21.5 21.3
Rutherford County Blackman High School 21.7 21.2
Rutherford County Central Magnet School 31.2 31
Rutherford County Eagleville School 21.3 20
Rutherford County Holloway High School 15.4 16.5
Rutherford County Lavergne High School 17.8 18
Rutherford County Oakland High School 20.5 20.1
Rutherford County Riverdale High School 20.4 20.6
Rutherford County Rockvale High School 19.1
Rutherford County Siegel High School 20.8 20.9
Rutherford County Smyrna High School 19.1 19.4
Rutherford County Stewarts Creek High School 20.8 21.3
Scott County Scott High School 17.6 18.6
Sequatchie County Sequatchie Co High School 18.9 19.1
Sevier County Gary Hardin Academy 15.4 16.7
Sevier County Gatlinburg Pittman High 22.3 22.8
Sevier County Northview Senior Academy 18.5 18.8
Sevier County Pigeon Forge High School 18.5 19.3
Sevier County Sevier County High School 19.7 20.4
Sevier County Seymour High School 20.8 21.2
Shelby County B. T. Washington High 14.2 14.8
Shelby County Bolton High 16.7 17.7
Shelby County Carver College and Career Academy 12.7
Shelby County Central High 18.9 18.4
Shelby County City University School Of Liberal Arts 17.1 15.6
Shelby County Compass Community School Midtown Campus 17.7
Shelby County Cordova High School 17.6 17.2
Shelby County Craigmont High 15.3 16.1
Shelby County Douglass High 15.2 15.3
Shelby County East High 16.2 15.7
Shelby County Freedom Preparatory Academy 18 19.4
Shelby County Germantown High 20 20.4
Shelby County Hamilton High 15.2 14.4
Shelby County Hollis F. Price Middle College 20.3 20.1
Shelby County Kingsbury High 16.2 15.8
Shelby County KIPP Memphis Collegiate High School 16.9 16.3
Shelby County Kirby High 14.9 15.3
Shelby County Manassas High 14.9 14.7
Shelby County Melrose High 14.9 15.9
Shelby County Memphis Academy of Health Sciences High School 16.6 17.1
Shelby County Memphis Academy Of Science Engineering Middle/High 17.3 16.7
Shelby County Memphis Business Academy High School 17.6 18
Shelby County Memphis School of Excellence 18.3 18.5
Shelby County Memphis Virtual School 16.8 17.9
Shelby County Middle College High 22.7 22.9
Shelby County Mitchell High 15.1 15.4
Shelby County Northwest Prep Academy 14 13.7
Shelby County Oakhaven High 15.6 14.6
Shelby County Overton High 17.4 18
Shelby County Power Center Academy High School 16.6 17.4
Shelby County Raleigh-Egypt High 15.3 16.3
Shelby County Ridgeway High 16.4 17.2
Shelby County Sheffield High 14.2 13.9
Shelby County Soulsville Charter School 17.7 17.8
Shelby County Southwind High 16.7 16.6
Shelby County Trezevant High 14.6 14.2
Shelby County Westwood High 14.5 16.1
Shelby County White Station High 23.2 22.8
Shelby County Whitehaven High 17.4 17.6
Shelby County Wooddale High 15.3 15.4
Smith County Gordonsville High School 20.6 19.6
Smith County Smith County High School 18.7 19.3
South Carroll Clarksburg School 17 20.4
Stewart County Stewart Co High School 20 19.9
Sullivan County Sullivan Central High School 19 20.5
Sullivan County Sullivan East High School 19.8 20.1
Sullivan County Sullivan North High School 17.9 18.5
Sullivan County Sullivan South High School 20.5 21.1
Sumner County Beech Sr High School 20.6 21
Sumner County E B Wilson 18.9 19.1
Sumner County Gallatin Senior High School 19.4 19.1
Sumner County Hendersonville High School 22.6 21.9
Sumner County Merrol Hyde Magnet School 30.4 30.3
Sumner County Portland High School 19.2 19.2
Sumner County Station Camp High School 21.7 21.7
Sumner County Sumner County Middle College High School 25.3 26.8
Sumner County Sumner County Middle Technical College High School at Portla * 15.9
Sumner County Westmoreland High School 20 20.4
Sumner County White House High School 20.4 21
Tennessee School for Blind Tenn School For Blind * *
Tennessee School for the Deaf Tennessee School for the Deaf Upper School * *
Tipton County Brighton High School 20.6 20.3
Tipton County Covington High School 19.2 19
Tipton County Munford High School 20.7 21.7
Trenton Peabody High School 19.3 18.8
Trousdale County Trousdale Co High School 20 21
Tullahoma Tullahoma High School 21.8 20.4
Unicoi County Unicoi Co High School 18.8 19.7
Union City Union City High School 21.5 22.8
Union County Union County High School 17 16.9
Van Buren County Van Buren Co High School 17.7 18.9
Warren County Warren County High School 18.9 18.7
Washington County Daniel Boone High School 19.2 20.4
Washington County David Crockett High School 19.7 19.2
Washington County Tennessee Virtual Learning Academy * *
Washington County University School 26.7 26.9
Wayne County Collinwood High School 17.9 18.8
Wayne County Frank Hughes School 22.3 17
Wayne County Wayne County High School 17.3 18.3
Weakley County Dresden High School 20.2 21
Weakley County Gleason School 20.5 20.8
Weakley County Greenfield School 20.1 22.1
Weakley County Westview High School 20.5 20.7
West Carroll Sp Dist West Carroll Junior/Senior High School 19.8 19.5
White County White County High School 18.9 19.8
Williamson County Brentwood High School 27.6 27.5
Williamson County Centennial High School 23.3 22.8
Williamson County Fairview High School 23.2 22
Williamson County Franklin High School 26.6 27.1
Williamson County Fred J Page High School 25.4 25.6
Williamson County Independence High School 24.7 24.5
Williamson County Nolensville High School 25 23.8
Williamson County Ravenwood High School 27.4 27.5
Williamson County Renaissance High School 25.3 25
Williamson County Summit High School 22.9 23.8
Wilson County Barry Tatum Academy 21.1 22.3
Wilson County Lebanon High School 20.3 19.1
Wilson County Mt. Juliet High School 22.7 22.9
Wilson County Watertown High School 21 19.9
Wilson County Wilson Central High School 21.4 20.6
Source: Tennessee Department of Education

Correction: Nov. 24, 2020: A previous version of this story said no ACT retake is currently scheduled for the Class of 2021. A spokeswoman for the Department of Education said Tennessee is covering the cost of seniors to take the exam again, possibly in December or next spring.

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