A long-time principal who is now a legislator says too many Tennessee students are blowing off mandatory college entrance exams and dragging down the average score for the state and districts.
A dozen states require students to take the ACT, and those states make up the bottom 20 in the country. Tennessee has one of the lowest average scores in the country at 19.8, ranking just behind Kentucky, which also requires all students to take the test.
Rep. David Byrd (R-Waynesboro) – known as “Coach” in Wayne County – says for years he’s watched students spend five minutes on a test that should take hours, doodling instead of filling in the bubbles.
“They’re not trying at all because there’s no incentive for them to try," Byrd says. "They don’t want to be there to start with.”
Wayne County's average ACT composite is even lower than the statewide figure at 18.2.
Byrd says students who have no interest in higher education should be able to opt out. He’s introduced legislation to do that, though he says he will add an amendment that requires students to get written permission from their parents.
But the ACT opt-out faces resistance from education advocates who say the proposal sends the wrong message.
"Encouraging all students to pursue some kind of education beyond high school is more important than ever," says David Mansouri of the State Collaborative on Reforming Education.
Mansouri says some students may go into the ACT testing room not thinking they're college material and figure out they are when they score well.
But Rep. Byrd doesn't buy that too many students would be surprised by their ACT results.
“If a person is not interested in taking it, I don’t see how they can do well," he says.