ACT scores drop in local schools

Loudon High School teacher Jennifer Brewster, left, reviews ACT material with senior Marie Tolle.

ACT scores for the 2020-21 year released recently by the Tennessee Department of Education show a significant dip for Loudon County and Lenoir City schools.

After positive gains for Lenoir City and Loudon County last year reached composite scores of 20.3 and 20, respectively, this time both districts fell below 19.

Lenoir City and Loudon County overall composite scores were 18.8 and 18.9, respectively. The state average was 19.1.

“It is clear that ACT data trends across the state would indicate that COVID-19 had an impact on student scores,” Jeanne Barker, Lenoir City director of schools, said in an email correspondence. “The current leadership has a shared focus on quality instruction for all students and we anticipate that will show in our data in the coming years.”

Matthew Tinker, Loudon County high school supervisor and career and technical education director, wasn’t surprised by the results.

“I don’t know that it was expected but we weren’t surprised because if you go back and track that graduating group’s history, they were the group, of course, that missed the spring semester due to COVID,” Tinker said. “Then their senior year, that was the year when we were doing all the quarantining, they were out a lot.

“During that junior year, they weren’t able to take the ACT like every other group that’s come before them so they didn’t get as much practice at it and get to look at their test and go over it and make adjustments,” he added. “Now, they could take it on their own of course. It was even hard just to take the ACT period on your own during that timeframe. We expected a little drop there because of some of the learning loss as you see across the state.”

Despite the struggles students faced, Tinker was proud the district reported higher results than nearby school systems.

“This indicates to me that our students were still well prepared comparatively and more impacted by the pandemic,” Mike Garren, Loudon County director of schools, said in an email correspondence.

One positive is both local districts surpassed the state’s participation rate of 96%. Loudon County and Lenoir City had rates of 99% and 98%, respectively.

“One of our biggest challenges that we face is we try to get everyone to take it — we’re 99% — and not everyone plans to go to college and that’s a long test for someone who doesn’t plan to go to college to sit through and take and do their very best on,” Tinker said. “We believe they have the skills but sometimes they have their mind made up about what they’re wanting to do.

“What we try to talk to them about is just not limiting your options,” he added. “‘Take it, do the best that you can. You may change your mind about what your future plans are and your ACT scores will help you in that endeavor.’ That is a challenge because we have a lot of really high scores and we have some where maybe they’re just not giving 100%.”

Despite a 98% participation rate, Barker said 74% of Lenoir City’s 2021 graduates took the ACT only once.

Tinker believes scores will improve with fewer disruptions. He also pointed to the help students can get during their “skinny blocks” at school.

“We have teachers in there who target some of those skills so for their senior year test they’re able to take those,” Tinker said.

Both school systems dropped across the board in every subject.

“We will hit our goals of a 21 composite or higher through continued focus on standards-aligned instruction in every classroom within Lenoir City Schools,” Barker said. “Student performance on the ACT is a result of their educational experience K-12. Through our district initiatives for the implementation of high-quality instructional materials and our work in supporting instructional leaders, we continue to develop a shared vision of what quality instruction looks like across the district. We also are exploring opportunities for our students to engage in conversations earlier about the impact of ACT scores and a greater understanding of what to expect on test day and how to analyze their previous test scores to provide focused preparation using an online platform with ACT preparation resources.

“... I want readers to know that we are committed to providing opportunities for post-secondary success for all students at Lenoir City High School,” she added. “The ACT is the easiest way to secure funding for students who plan to earn a post-secondary degree and scores can aid students in earning collegiate credit in high school. We are working daily to engage our community in understanding the benefit of performing well on this exam.”