Tennessee Earns Inaugural ACT State Equity and Access Champion Award
Award Highlights State’s Innovative Senior Retake Program
Nashville, TN— Today, the Tennessee Department of Education received the inaugural ACT State Equity and Access Champion Award, which celebrates and honors the state’s commitment to postsecondary access by enabling more students to achieve their goals and dreams.
Tennessee leads the nation in ACT access, offering public high school students the opportunity to take the ACT two times for free during normal school hours. Public school students test once in the spring of their junior year, and then have an opportunity to retake the ACT in the fall of their senior year during normal school hours. As a result of the ACT senior retake program, Tennessee’s minority, low income, and underserved students have been able to achieve a two-point increase in average composite scores. Since Tennessee first provided the senior retake opportunity in 2016, 1 in 3 students have earned the qualifying ACT score to receive the HOPE scholarship award.
“In Tennessee, we remain focused on ensuring each and every student is ready for success and able to pursue the career path of their choice upon high school graduation, and we are honored to accept this award from ACT,” said Commissioner Penny Schwinn. “Thanks to the hard work of our districts and schools, educators, postsecondary institutions and most importantly, families and students, Tennessee is prepared for the future.”
“Tennessee was the first state to provide an opportunity for all students to improve their ACT scores in the fall of the senior year - during school, in their own classroom and at no cost to their families,” said Janet Godwin, CEO, ACT, Inc. “The senior retake program helps advance equity and access so that all students have the opportunity to show learning gains, qualify for scholarships, and improve their chances for success in college and career. The program exemplifies the state’s commitment to providing a pathway to success beyond high school.”
The ACT is a comprehensive college entrance exam covering a wide range of subjects that assess students' mathematical skills, grammar usage, science interpretation, and reading comprehension. Because results from college readiness tests, like ACT, are often used to determine eligibility for scholarships, including the Tennessee HOPE scholarship, ACT re-take opportunities empower students to fulfill requirements for college admission and demonstrate readiness.
Tennessee’s ACT Senior Retake program began in October 2016, when Tennessee began paying for public high school seniors to retake the ACT on the national Saturday test day. The program was successful and was expanded through the enactment of T.C.A. § 49-6-6001, the Tennessee General Assembly appropriates state funds each year for all juniors to take the ACT for free, and for all seniors to retake the ACT prior to graduation.
Once district leaders saw the benefits of the retake for the students that participated, the support was there to move it to a school day in 2017. Since 2018, the General Assembly has provided funding for the ACT Senior Retake in every budget. The cost of the Senior Retake is $33/student, or about $2 million a year. Through their support, one in every three students that earns a Hope Scholarship does so through the Senior Retake. In a typical year, approximately 4,000 additional Tennessee students earn an ACT Composite score of 21 or higher from the Senior Retake, making these students eligible for up to $64 million in HOPE scholarship funds.
"Tennessee has taken bold steps to close the opportunity gap for all students in taking the ACT," said Dr. Cathy Beck, Director of Schools, Cheatham County Schools. "Having measures in place such as the free senior ACT retake and the free ACT prep workshops offered through the University of Tennessee at Martin, our state is leveling the playing field to ensure that all students have the chance to potentially boost their scores and to be college and career ready."
"I am thankful that the state of Tennessee is providing opportunities for ACT retakes for our students," said Dr. Danny Weeks, Director of Schools, Dickson County Schools. "The opportunities provide our students to relieve some pressure from the one-time, high-stakes assessment. We are proud that our students have the opportunity to share their knowledge and skills to help them fulfill their hopes and dreams."
Since the summer of 2021, the department has partnered with the University of Tennessee at Martin to provide all Tennessee high school students and teachers with access to free, virtual workshops, office hours, and classes on how to succeed on the ACT.
Through the partnership since September 2022, 165 workshops have been offered serving a total of 2,241 students, eight mastery classes have been offered serving a total of 169 students, and 13 teacher workshops have been offered training nearly 200 teachers.
“Tennessee students deserve our guidance and support to achieve postsecondary and career success,” said UT Martin Chancellor Keith Carver. “The Tennessee Department of Education is an important partner in providing ACT prep and the other resources that students need to thrive in our changing economy and world.”
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.
For Tennessee Department of Education media inquiries, contact Edu.MediaInquiries@tn.gov.