Tennessee’s 2018 public school graduates were the most prepared for college in the state’s history, according to ACT data released Wednesday by the Tennessee Department of Education.

Ensuring every student is ready for postsecondary education and the workforce is one of SCORE’s three student achievement goals. When students attain benchmark scores on the ACT, they are more likely to pass college-level courses and go on to earn associate’s and bachelor’s degrees.

The statewide average ACT composite score of 20.2 is the highest ever for Tennessee students, up from 20.1 in 2017. Here are other notable indicators from these ACT results:

  • Economically disadvantaged students improved faster than all students. We want to see historically underserved students outpace the state average to eliminate achievement disparities,.
  • Students with a 21 or higher composite score increased 1 point to 43.2 percent. A 21 composite score is notable for two reasons. First, the benchmark to earn the HOPE Scholarship and up to $8,000 over four years is a composite of 21 or better. Second, a composite of 21 is one of the key indicators for the Ready Graduate measure in the accountability system Tennessee created under the Every Student Achieves Act.
  • Tennessee is the only state that provides seniors a free ACT retake at their high school. The new results confirm that about four in ten students raised their overall score on the retake.
  • Tennessee’s average ACT score improved in reading, English, and math and held steady in science. The biggest gain was in reading, up 0.3 points from 2017.

Clearly, the hard work of Tennessee students and teachers produced these ACT gains, which better position more students to make the most of postsecondary opportunities like Tennessee Promise.

Tennessee receives a customized ACT report that calculates public school graduate performance based on their best score. By contrast, ACT reports national and Tennessee numbers using the most recent score for public and private school students. The different calculations complicate comparing Tennessee performance, but some trendlines are worth noting. The ACT national composite declined 0.2 points this year, while Tennessee’s customized composite score improved 0.1 points.

Amid all this good news also are signs of what needs more attention. Tennessee students are just as bright as students elsewhere, but the state results are below the national average. Tennessee’s overall composite score is 0.6 points lower than the national average. The Tennessee math score is a full point behind the nation’s, and reading is 0.6 points lower.

Among the 130 Tennessee districts with ACT results, there are wide differences between rural, suburban, and urban districts. While 27 districts have reached the state goal of a composite 21 or higher, eight have composite averages below 18.

ACT provides a snapshot of how our students are doing near the end of their K-12 experience. But Tennesseans want our students to become the best in the nation, so we must follow the Tennessee way: set high academic standards, measure progress every year with a statewide assessment, and support teachers in giving students the instruction needed to put them on track to graduate qualified for a range of opportunities that will lead to success in their chosen career.

David Mansouri is president of SCORE.