TDOE Releases 2020-21 ACT State Results and Participation Rate Data

Wednesday, December 15, 2021 | 01:16pm


Participation Rate and State Average Composite Decreased Slightly

Nashville, TN—Today, the Tennessee Department of Education released the ACT state results and participation rate for the 2021 graduating class. Participation in the ACT decreased slightly from 97% with 62,564 graduates in 2019-20 to 96% with 60,865 graduates in 2020-21. The state average composite ACT score showed a decline from 19.9 for the class of 2019-20 to 19.1 for the class of 2020-21. 

The ACT provides an important opportunity for our state to understand students’ college and career readiness and how we are preparing the next generation to transition to post-secondary opportunities. Each fall, the department releases statewide ACT results for the most recent graduating class representing each student’s highest ACT score. 

The 2021 graduating class was most impacted by the global COVID-19 pandemic with regards to the ACT testing. T.C.A. § 49-6-6001 requires all Tennessee public school students to take a postsecondary readiness exam, such as the ACT or SAT, in their junior year of high school. The opportunity allows students to maximize their potential to demonstrate postsecondary readiness, qualify for academic scholarships, and avoid remediation. Due to pandemic related school closures in Spring 2020, the Tennessee General Assembly enacted Public Chapter 652 in the 2020 legislative session to waive the ACT testing requirement for 11th grade students in the 2019-20 school year.

“Even with the requirements being waived and our districts, schools, and students having faced so many challenges this school year, we are proud to have achieved a 96% participation rate on the ACT for the 2020-21 school year- one of the highest in the country during this period,” said Commissioner Penny Schwinn. “While we know the effects of the pandemic are still being felt, especially by this class of students, we are proud of the collective efforts to ensure our students have every opportunity to be prepared for and take the ACT. We know Tennessee will continue to increase participation in college readiness testing to ensure our students are post-secondary ready.”  

The department remained focused on ensuring college and career readiness for all students, despite the challenges posed by the pandemic by providing several additional opportunities for students to take the ACT and for schools and districts to maximize participation:

  • Offered districts the ability to register students to take the ACT on national test dates at no cost to the student for all students to participate in the ACT on national test dates during the summer and fall of 2020 and spring of 2021
  • Collaborated with ACT to expand testing sites on national test dates during the fall of 2020 
  • Offered the opportunity during the in-school testing dates in spring 2021 (normally reserved for juniors) to test seniors who missed the previous ACT testing opportunities

These efforts significantly improved the participation rate for the 2021 graduating class and brought the ACT participation rate to 96%, one percentage point shy from the prior year’s participation rate. Across the state, 17 districts had a participation rate of 100%, and only five districts had a participation rate lower than 90%. 

Access the 2020-21 ACT participation rates and composite scores data here, under the Additional Data heading. 

District highlights: 

  • Williamson County had the highest percent of students meeting the overall ACT composite benchmark of 21 (77%), followed by Germantown (71%) and Collierville (66%).  
  • Clay County (a distressed county) demonstrated the highest growth in percent of students meeting the overall ACT composite benchmark of 21—23% points growth (48% of the 2021 graduating cohort vs. 25% of the 2020 graduating cohort), followed by Union City (12% points growth), and Houston County (11% points growth).

“We’re very proud of our students, families, and teachers for having two-thirds of our students score a 21 or above on the ACT,” said Gary Lilly, Director of Schools, Collierville Schools. “It has been a challenging couple of years, but our students have proven resilient. This milestone continues to demonstrate the commitment of our community, which values the importance of educational opportunities for our students.  We are excited by the level of achievement our students have attained and look forward to celebrating their future successes.”

“The ACT is part of the culture of Union City Schools,” said Wesley Kennedy, Director of Schools, Union City Schools. “We make sure students know and understand the financial benefits of a 21+ ACT along with the options it gives you later in life. We believe that great ACT scores begin in PreK not in high school. Early literacy, early math foundations, and an early love for learning is key to high ACT scores. We are blessed with a faculty and staff from PreK through 12th grade that works tirelessly for our students’ future; they believe in our students and expect high ACT scores. We are always trying to improve our ACT scores and that means always evaluating ‘what and how’ you are teaching PreK through 12.”

“We believe that the scope of a student’s entire educational experience plays a vital role in preparation for the ACT,” said Jason Manuel, Director of Schools, Germantown Municipal Schools. “Our teachers use a targeted approach to identify students who will benefit from the Preparing for ACT, Postsecondary, and Career course, as well as additional supports. It is important to identify all students who are scoring in the 16-20 range quickly to provide these interventions. On average, GMSD’s efforts yielded a 2-point gain for the students who were targeted. Our teachers and staff are all active participants in creating a culture of ACT awareness and emphasizing why the ACT is important for students.  We are extremely proud of the work completed to result in 99% participation by last year's seniors in spite of the pandemic barriers.”

“Members of the Class of 2021 should be celebrated for their accomplishments on the ACT. The pandemic disrupted their testing opportunities more than any other, and yet, 77 percent of them scored a 21 or better, with a Class of 2021 average of 24.9,” said Jason Golden, Director of Schools, Williamson County Schools. “While they should have tested during the spring of their junior year, the pandemic postponed that opportunity until the fall of their senior year, and then, they had to depend on a national testing site for their senior retake. The fact that this group persevered through those disadvantages along with all the other pandemic-related instructional challenges is nothing short of impressive.”

"We are proud of the work our students and teachers have put in to drive this high growth,” said Kris McAskill, Director of Schools, Houston County Schools. “In particular, our ACT prep teachers and motivated 12th-grade students worked diligently during our new skinny block time in the nine-week period leading up to the ACT retake. We are very happy that our students will reap the benefits of their hard work!" 

The department uses students' best ACT score, meaning that if a student took the ACT multiple times, the score included in the finalized data reflect the student’s highest score. During the 2020-21 school year, 64 districts submitted a total of 2,929 appeals, which was 2.6 times more than the number of appeals submitted in 2019-20. 

ACT results serve as a nationally-normed measure to indicate college and career readiness. Under Tennessee’s accountability model, earning a 21 on the ACT is one of the four ways that students can indicate that they are prepared for life after high school and a seamless entry into postsecondary education, the workplace, and the military. 

In partnership with the University of Tennessee, Martin, the department continues to offer free ACT prep workshops for students and educators. Learn how to take advantage of these free resources here. To learn more about college readiness testing in Tennessee, click here.

For Tennessee Department of Education media inquiries, contact