By: Loren Haas
Tennessee is taking an entirely different approach to its required testing than it has in years prior. The state now requires its students to take either the ACT or SAT to graduate, along with a civics test to be taken during the senior economics class.
The principals of Hardin Valley Academy announced this decision during the class meetings held during the first week of school, in which they went over the requirements and expectations for each grade level.
“I can see some benefits in that students being aware of our world and of the United States and the civics test, that’s valuable,” said Assistant Principal Tonya Childress. “Even though you might not think you’re going to college now, your decision may change later, and this kind of gives you an idea of where you stand and know what you need to work on and skills to be successful. Overall, this could benefit everyone.”
The state has not said exactly why these decisions were made; however, teachers and students have many guesses.
“I have absolutely no idea [why the state made these changes],” said ACT Prep Teacher Jakob Gulledge. “They’re striving to race to the top. They’re trying to do something to make us more objective and move us forward.”
“The state made these changes so we could push all students to be college-ready,” Childress said. She said that this test could also allow students “to know where they stand academically.”
Another theory is that the changes were made to address the average ACT score in Tennessee, which has remained at 19.8 over the past five years. This number is lower than the national average of 21 on the exam, and the state may desire to bring up the students’ average.
However, there is no guarantee that any attempts to bring up the scores will succeed.
ACT Prep Teacher Carrie Brimi said that many students who were not originally planning on taking the ACT and are unprepared because of it will struggle with the exam.
“[Mandatory ACT testing] is not for them, so if everyone takes it, the scores are most likely going to go down,” said Brimi.
Brimi explains that students with parents who did go to college will be aware of the demands of the test and how to be prepared, whereas first generation college-attenders could be going into the exam blind.
The civics test has faced similar debate; students and staff members alike feel that it has not been implemented properly by the state, but for different reasons.
“I don’t think you should have to take it if you’ve taken a past AP Gov [course],” said junior Kaitlyn Cottrell.
“The civics test is a good idea,” Gulledge said. “The way it’s being done isn’t great because you don’t actually have to pass the test. You just have to sit there and take it. It’s a good idea… but you should have to have a certain passing grade for it.”
In fact, this is true of both evaluations; the state requires no minimum score to meet the graduation requirement, so long as both examinations are taken before the ceremony is held.
People at HVA all have agreed that these new requirements require some sort of adjustment to yield long-term benefits, but what that adjustment should be is still in debate. Gulledge said that requiring a minimum score to pass, thus ensuring that students study before both examinations, would improve the process. Brimi said that ACT Prep should be required; this way, all students would be informed of voucher deadlines and the expectations of the examination, and test scores would go up.
However, there is an overall agreement that these changes will benefit the student body in the long run, and that even more changes to the structure of the requirements will likely happen soon.
“It’s definitely a shift,” said Childress, “but sometimes a shift just takes getting used to, and then they’ll make something else new up for us to do.”