Local schools posted mixed results on the latest ACT scores the state released Wednesday, with Maryville ranking fourth in the state, Alcoa’s score rising slightly and Blount County’s dropping by nearly two points, falling below the Tennessee average for the Class of 2018.

Tennessee public school students posted an average composite score of 20.2 in 2018, up from 20.1 last year, the state Department of Education announced, with 2,000 more students taking the exam. Tennessee reports students’ best scores, while ACT reports students’ most recent scores.

Although taking the ACT became a graduation requirement in Tennessee during the 2016-17 school year, Blount County Schools said increased participation for the Class of 2018 could be a reason for its drop from an average score of 21.1 in 2017 to 19.4 this year.

Maryville High School’s average rose from 23.4 to 24.3, while at Alcoa High School, the average score rose from 21.2 to 21.3. High school graduates need a composite score of 21 or higher to qualify for the state’s Hope Scholarship, and 71.7 percent of Maryville students hit that mark in 2018, compared with 67.8 percent last year, Maryville City Schools said.

In individual subjects, the state average was 19.7 in English, 19.5 in math, 20.7 in reading and 20.3 in science.

Maryville students’ scores averaged 24.3 in English, 23.5 in math, 24.8 in reading and 24.1 in science, all increased from the previous year.

William Blount High School students posted a 19.3 composite score, with an average of 19 in English, math and science, and a 19.6 in reading, Principal Rob Clark said.

Heritage High School had a composite of 18.2, with an average of 18 in English and science, 18.1 in reading and 18.2 in math, Principal Jake Jones said. HHS tested about 300 students in the Class of 2017 when its composite was 20.3, and about 370 in the Class of 2018.

“We’re definitely testing a lot more students,” Jones said.

Subject scores weren’t available Wednesday from Alcoa High School.

Preparation for testing

All the districts are working to better prepare students for the ACT, which figures into school and district accountability scores. Earning at least a 21 on the ACT is one of Tennessee’s measures for what it calls a “Ready Graduate,” a student prepared for college or a career.

For example, teachers are including ACT-style questions on materials for students, noted Jennifer Moore, Blount County Schools’ supervisor of middle and high school instruction. BCS high schools also offer an ACT prep class as an elective.

Schools also are giving students more ACT practice tests, trying to simulate the real-test experience, such as requiring them to show identification before they begin and with the same break schedule. Test endurance can be a factor, Clark explained, noting that on the math section, they may face 60 problems on an hour-long exam.

WBHS has created a plaque for the names of students who score 30 or above (36 is the highest possible score), but it also is offering incentives for students whose scores exceed predictions based on previous tests.

“We’re trying to encourage all kids, whether they’re college bound or not,” Clark said.

Students can earn T-shirts, their choice of a parking spot or even free parking if they score well enough at William Blount.

Setting goals

Heritage is implementing a “21-Point Club,” Jones said. Students who score that level or improve their scores will earn points on a card that they can cash in for incentives such as T-shirts, parking or sports passes.

Two days after a practice ACT, Jones said, teachers are meeting with students to discuss the results and set goals.

In addition to tutoring, Heritage’s high-scoring students have offered tips during morning sessions, such as to first answer questions that the students easily can complete and then return to those that will take more time.

One of the disadvantages at Heritage is that because so many students rely on bus transportation, it’s difficult to schedule extra help in the morning or after school, Jones said, but he’s looking at ways to fit extra help into pockets of time.

“We want these students to feel confident about the skills they have,” Jones said.

Virtually all Alcoa High School juniors take an ACT preparation class, Assistant Principal Kim Hawkins said. The school has moved all of those classes to the spring semester and expanded from a single teacher to a team with expertise across subjects.

This year, Alcoa also is starting to publicly recognize students in its 30+ Club, Hawkins said.

Statewide, economically disadvantaged students posted the greatest growth, raising their average 0.2 points, to a score of 17.7, and 23 percent of those students scored well enough to qualify for the Hope Scholarship.

Tennessee also offers seniors a free ACT retake in the fall and said nearly 40 percent of the members of the Class of 2018 who took advantage of that raised their scores.

Germantown Municipal School District had the highest ACT composite average, 25.9, and 85.6 percent of its students scored 21 or above.

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