Metro Schools’ ACT participation increases, achievement gaps persist

Metro Schools’ ACT participation rate increased to 88 percent, with 4,376 students of the class of 2016 taking the college readiness assessment, a district analysis of ACT data shows. The 88 percent participation rate represents a 15.5 percent increase in just one year, or 586 additional students taking the ACT. While ACT participation increased beyond the state-required 80 percent rate for that year, the district’s average ACT composite score declined from 18.7 in 2015 to 18.2 in 2016. Scores also declined for each subject tested. The graduating class of 2017 will be the first in which students are required by the state of Tennessee to attempt the ACT in order to graduate with a regular high school diploma. A 95 percent participation rate is required for all school districts statewide. The required increase in participation puts the focus on appropriating equitable resources to break the links between race, socioeconomics and poverty and their relationship to student achievement, according to Metro Schools’ leadership.

View the full analysis of ACT scores in Metro Schools.

“Without adequate resources, particularly for our growing ELL and special education populations, the road to improvement will be slow, but steady. With or without adequate resources, we should continue to refine our plans to improve achievement for all students,” said Dr. Shawn Joseph, Director of Schools.

“We hope to identify ways to target resources to students who need them to accelerate improvement efforts in the coming months and years. This will be a priority in our K-12 strategic plan, and it is one of the reasons we have been discussing equitable and appropriate school funding formulas to support our efforts to accelerate growth for our students,” Joseph said. “Our children deserve the type of funding that will support us making targeted and adequate investments in their accelerated academic growth."

The 2016 results reveal that although the district’s 1,100 White students on average met the college readiness benchmark of 21, as defined by the ACT, there are large gaps in achievement and college-readiness between subgroups. The widest achievement gap between Black and White students occurs for Reading (4.4 points) while the biggest gap for Hispanic students relative to White students is for English (5.0 points).

According to district calculations, further gaps exist between students of differing socio-economic backgrounds. Among non-economically disadvantaged students, 42.4 percent scored at least 21 on the ACT compared to just 18.5 percent of economically disadvantaged students. The average composite scores for these two groups were 20 and 17, respectively.

Among the class of 2016, the population of economically disadvantaged students were: 67.4 percent Hispanic; 65.5 percent Black; 56.6 percent Asian; and 40.4 percent White. Since all Metro Schools’ students are now eligible to receive no-cost breakfast and lunch under the U.S. Department of Agriculture Community Eligibility Provision, those identified as economically disadvantaged last year were based upon participation in a program such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or the parents’ response to an income survey distributed in the fall of 2015.

What’s next?

Metro Schools will tackle the decline in scores with a multi-faceted approach to better prepare students for the test and increase access to local preparation programs outside of school. This effort includes getting students into more rigorous classes earlier so they are exposed to the material included on the test and making sure students have the preparation they need to take the test.

Alignment Nashville offers a collaborative initiative involving several district high schools to provide ACT preparation for students who may not otherwise be able to afford prep courses. This initiative, Partners for ACT Preparation (PACT), was piloted with juniors in 2015-16 in four high schools – Hunters Lane, Hillsboro, Maplewood and Overton. At these schools, half of the students who participated in PACT scored a 21 or higher, and all schools saw an average increase in scores among participants. For 2016-17, PACT has spread to more than half of all high schools and two middle schools.

In further work with Alignment Nashville, district teachers and administrators are backward mapping current ACT shortcomings to identify needed instructional strategies for middle and high school classrooms.

The majors of Metro high schools will give practice ACT tests this fall that will be analyzed by a professional ACT prep firm called Analyze Ed. This will give teachers needed data for strategic interventions and targeted tutoring for students who need it.

The district will also explore the development of an early warning system that will identify which students are in need of supports much earlier than the 11th grade year, which is when the state of Tennessee requires students to take the ACT.

“We will use this data to provide targeted supports to students earlier in their academic programs,” Joseph said. “As we develop a strategic plan, we will be focusing K-12 on stronger curricula implementation, stronger monitoring and stronger communication about student performance between school and home.”

Read the full district analysis of ACT data here.