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Nearly 1,300 More Tennessee Students Eligible for the HOPE Scholarship

Tennessee Department of EducationNashville, TN – Tennessee Department of Education Commissioner Candice McQueen announced that newly released data from ACT show that nearly 1,300 more Tennessee public school students became eligible for the HOPE scholarship in 2016 by achieving composite scores of 21 or higher.

With more Tennessee students than ever before taking the ACT, Tennessee public high school students held steady at a 19.4 average score, whereas nationally scores declined as more students participated.

1,300 more Tennessee public school students became eligible for the HOPE scholarship in 2016
1,300 more Tennessee public school students became eligible for the HOPE scholarship in 2016

For each subject area, scores of Tennessee public school students either increased slightly or remained constant, with no score declining.

Additionally, Tennessee improved its national standing in 2016 among the 18 states that require students to take the ACT, climbing to seventh in the nation when looking at the average composite of both public and private school students.

In 2015, Tennessee ranked eighth among the then-13 states that required the college readiness assessment.

“Our ACT results show Tennessee is on the right track,” McQueen said. “Our school districts are focusing in new ways on ensuring students have the ability to take the assessment, and more students are accessing HOPE scholarship funds and demonstrating that they are college and career ready. While we still have room to grow, I believe in the potential of every Tennessee student, and we have built momentum toward our goal of a statewide average of 21 on the ACT.”

Results from the ACT serve as a critical measure to indicate college and career readiness. One of the department’s three goals, as detailed in the department’s strategic plan, Tennessee Succeeds, is to raise the average ACT composite score to 21 by 2020. This achievement would allow even more Tennessee students to be eligible for the HOPE scholarship and access those resources to pay for college.

To support this effort, and to ensure that all students are given the opportunity to take the exam, the department has implemented the inclusion of ACT participation rates as one component of the district accountability framework. The renewed focus this year on increasing access to the assessment helped to drive an increase in participation of almost 3,000 students.

In addition to the statewide testing date in the spring, the state is offering and funding a new ACT retake opportunity this year, which is available to all public school seniors who took the exam as a junior. Tennessee is the first state to offer this opportunity on a statewide scale.

Combined data from Tennessee public and private school students show that students who retake the exam increase their scores by at least one point on average when retaking the exam and score at least three points higher than juniors who only take the test once. However, only 47 percent of students take advantage of that option.

District scores

The data available today are based on students’ most recent ACT scores, not their best ACT scores— meaning that if a student took the ACT multiple times, the score included in today’s data is his or her last score, not necessarily the highest one. The department will publish districts’ best scores on the state report card this fall, however, there were some notable gains in Tennessee’s school districts based on the data available today.

Twelve school districts already have an average composite at or above 21, and 45 Tennessee school districts have an average ACT composite above the state average of 19.4.

Germantown Municipal Schools had the highest ACT composite in the state for its public school students, posting a 24.1 average. Additionally, Union County Public Schools posted the largest gains in the state from 2015 to 2016, raising its average composite by 1.8 points to 19.2. Knox County Schools had the highest average composite out of the four large urban districts in Tennessee at 20.5.

Three districts both substantially increased the number of students who took the ACT and also increased their ACT composite scores: Smith County Schools, Houston County School District, and the Achievement School District.

Additional takeaways from the 2016 ACT results:

  • Tennessee had 320 more public school students at the state level who hit all four college- ready benchmarks (math, English, reading, and science).
  • Similar to the overall performance, Tennessee public school students maintained the percentage of students who scored college ready in all four subjects, showing a 4 percentage point increase from 2011 to 17 percent in 2016.
  • Within each subject area, 27 percent of public school students met the college ready benchmark in math, 34 percent met the benchmark in reading, 55 percent met it in English, and 27 percent met the science benchmark.
  • The average ACT score for public school students in each subject area was 19 in English and 19.7 in reading, both up 0.1 from 2015, and 18.9 in math and 19.5 in science, which was consistent with 2015 results.
  • Based on a new measure and equivalence score that is linked to National Career Readiness Certificate (NCRC) levels, 98 percent of students showed progress toward career readiness. The attainment of one of the ACT NCRC levels indicates workplace employability skills that are critical to job success.

For media inquiries, please contact Sara Gast at or call 615.532.6260. For questions specifically about the ACT Senior Retake Opportunity, please contact


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