The Basics:

  • Each dot represents a high school.
  • Dots to the right have higher average ACT composite scores
  • Dots toward the top have higher cumulative achievement gains (achievement growth) over the 4 years of high school
  • If the ‘Economically Disadvantaged’ box is checked, schools with = >70% economically disadvantaged students are shown in red

About the Chart
Schools in Tennessee are measured in terms of achievement and growth. At the high school level, Achievement tells you whether students are college ready, as measured by average ACT composite scores. Growth tells you how much students are gaining in achievement over the four years of high school. Growth is measured by comparing each student’s ACT performance as predicted by their achievement gains in grades 3-8 with their actual ACT composite score. The High School Growth vs. Achievement Chart enables you to compare your child’s high school with others in your geographic area and statewide on both measures.

On the whole, schools deserve neither blame nor credit for their average ACT composite scores. Achievement level primarily reflects the percentage of disadvantaged students attending the school. Notice that schools with 70% or more disadvantaged students (marked in red when the “Economically Disadvantaged” box is checked) are mostly to the left in this chart. This is because the education-related knowledge and skills of many disadvantaged students are months and years behind their peers when they enter school, while economically advantaged students tend to enter a school ahead of their peers. Unless a school district makes an intensive effort to bring disadvantaged students to grade level - especially in basic subjects like reading and math - those deficits typically remain throughout the course of their school career. Differences in ACT composite scores among high schools, thus, mostly reflect the entry-level preparation of their students, not the effectiveness of the high school.

Schools do deserve blame or credit for the cumulative achievement gain of their students as expressed by their cumulative gain index. This index is a measure of student progress over grades 9-12. It reflects how effective the school and its teachers are in lifting student achievement regardless of its students’ economic disadvantage or other differences. There are schools with high numbers of disadvantaged students that are very effective in lifting the ACT scores of their students beyond the level predicted by K-8 school performance. Conversely, there are schools with high percentages of advantaged students whose ACT scores tend to fall below projected levels over grades 9-12.

Reading the Chart
The numbers along the bottom margin of the chart (x-axis) are average ACT composite scores. These scores represent preparedness for college. A score of 21, for example, is the minimum necessary for a student to qualify for a Tennessee Hope Scholarship. If a school’s average ACT Composite score is 21, approximately one-half of its students would qualify for the Hope Scholarship.

The numbers along the left hand margin of the chart (y-axis) are Cumulative Gain Index scores. They are derived from the average 4-year increases in student achievement brought about by the school and they reflect the school’s effectiveness in lifting student achievement. A Gain Index with a plus sign indicates gains in student achievement above that which would be expected from the K-8 performance of entering students. A Gain Index with a minus sign indicates the opposite. Zero is the state average.

Users should bear in mind that these numbers are school averages that some students exceed and others fail to attain. Projected ACT scores for individual students are available from school staff.

What the Quadrants Mean
Schools in the upper right quadrant of the chart have above-average numbers of graduates whose ACT Composite score will qualify them for Tennessee’s Hope Scholarship and other college opportunities. Their annual achievement growth is being maximized. These schools are doing a good job of preparing mostly economically advantaged college-bound students. 

Schools in the upper left quadrant have a below-average number of graduates qualifying for the Hope Scholarship but whose annual achievement growth is being maximized. These schools are successfully addressing great teaching challenges and producing remarkably high rates of achievement growth despite above average numbers of inadequately prepared entering students.  

Schools in the lower right quadrant also have above-average achievers, but their annual achievement growth is not being maximized. These schools are permitting their often advantaged students to coast through the curriculum with a middling effort. Their students are college-bound but may find themselves required to take remedial and developmental studies upon entrance to college.

Schools in the lower left quadrant have a below-average number of graduates qualifying for the Hope Scholarship. Their students are not achieving the amount of academic growth necessary to overcome their typically low level of high-school preparedness. Students attending these schools fall further behind with each year of schooling and thus are more likely to drop out and be unprepared for college. These are the schools most in need of improvement. Their students are the most likely to need intensive instruction and are most likely to have been the recipients of social promotion in grades K-8.