Sullivan school system: Please take the ACT

Rick Wagner • Mar 5, 2018 at 12:30 PM

BLOUNTVILLE — Sullivan County school board members and officials remain baffled that Tennessee allows graduating seniors to take either the ACT or SAT.

The problem is that if too many students opt for the SAT, school systems must request waivers to reach the requirement that 95 percent of graduates take either test since there is no state-approved way to equate ACT and SAT scores.

“We had to do 59 appeals last year,” Director of Schools Evelyn Rafalowski said at Thursday’s school board work session.

The Board of Education had been slated to approve a policy update on graduation requirements at its March 5 meeting, but Rafalowski said that has been changed to review-only status because of a late January change in recommended graduation policy changes from the Tennessee School Boards Association. That change, to go before the Policy Committee before the April BOE meeting, was based on revamped Tennessee Board of Education policy, which is in turn based on state law.

The policy involves all sorts of graduation requirements, including that students must take (but not necessarily pass) a civics exam before graduating and a laundry list of various types of diplomas and designations for academic and other achievements that by law and policy must be denoted at graduations.

However, the state requirement with which BOE members take issue is that students must take either the ACT or SAT before they can graduate. The rub, as board member Matthew Spivey decried at Thursday’s work session, is that the state provides no formula or scale to determine the equivalent SAT score.

“We didn’t feel like we could change the state board policy,” Rafalowski said. Board Vice Chairman Randall Jones and Spivey said the state could solve the issue with a formula, scale or other scheme to equate the required ACT score with a comparable SAT score.

She said the answer is that although the policy reads ACT or SAT, the central office has told school administrators and counselors that Sullivan is an “ACT system” and that students are expected to take the ACT even if they also or already have taken the SAT.

One of the oddities of the situation, Rafalowski said, is that in theory a system could have a number of students take the SAT and have those count toward the mandatory testing requirement for graduation. However, since there is no way to determine the equivalency between the ACT and SAT, that school system’s composite ACT score shown on the annual state Report Card is not affected by the students who take the SAT, not matter how well or poorly they do on the SAT. 

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