Building a Culture of ACT Success in Lauderdale County

by Jerre Maynor, Director of Student Readiness at the Tennessee Department of Education


actLauderdale County is not leaving anything to chance when it comes to the ACT Senior Retake Opportunity. The students and staff of the district’s two high schools, Ripley and Halls, have registered approximately 74 percent of eligible seniors for the retake on Oct. 22. Their success has been a product of coordinated outreach to students and parents and alignment among teachers, counselors, and administrators to communicate why the ACT matters for all students.

At Halls High School, each senior was provided a folder that contained copies of their transcript, a card to capture their online ACT ID and account information, and a College Comparison sheet.

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Using the College Comparison sheet as a reference, students were encouraged to write down their current ACT composite score and to set a goal for the retake. All students at Halls who retake the ACT will be rewarded with an ice cream social, and students who increase their scores will be eligible for a special kickball tournament. At Ripley High School, Principal Joey Hassell has promoted the retake as an extension of their focus on setting high expectations. Beyond sending a letter to parents and text message reminders to students about the retake, Ripley counselors created a process for teachers to give students passes to go to the library to register. Counselors also kept the library open after school so that students and parents could complete registration at a time that was convenient for them. Ripley students who retake the ACT will also enjoy an ice cream social, and students who grow will receive a dress down day for each point increase.

image-1Because Ripley is the district’s ACT national test site, the district is providing a bus to transport students from Halls to Ripley on the test date. A teacher from Halls will accompany students on the bus and be there to provide calculators, pencils, snacks, and last-minute encouragement to anyone who needs it. Through a combination of test-day supports and incentives for retaking and improving their score, Lauderdale County is expecting all registered seniors to show up for the exam. If they do, the district could take a significant step forward in improving their average composite score.

The retake, however, is just one aspect of the district’s larger strategy to increase ACT scores. Both high schools are piloting the department’s ACT preparation course and principals from both schools are ensuring that teachers have time to collectively plan, review, and utilize their common formative assessments to drive student achievement. Students at the schools have credited their ACT preparation teachers with helping them understand how meeting the ACT’s college readiness benchmarks can help predict their success in college-level coursework and in understanding where they need to focus in order to improve their scores. Importantly, students and teachers are developing a common language to talk about the impact of ACT scores on their postsecondary opportunities. As a result, teachers and administrators at both schools aspire to build their students’ confidence and preparedness for the test day.

Summary – Lauderdale County’s Retake “ACTion” Plan

  • Inform and align all staff, including teachers, counselors, and district administrators. All staff members have a role to play in developing the culture around postsecondary readiness and success.
  • Explain the why. Students need to develop their own motivation for retaking the ACT. By connecting the retake to their postsecondary plans and options, students set their own goals for the retake.
  • Create time and space. Counselors and teachers collaborated to create both physical and figurative time and space for students and teachers to talk about the retake opportunity, complete online registration, and set goals based on their postsecondary plans.
  • Turn out for what? By providing logistical support and student-centered incentives, the district is supporting both students’ motivation and ability to show up for the exam. Even though increased scores could be the highest impact reward for students, smaller, immediate incentives can go a long way in helping students work toward larger goals.

District Contacts

If you would like more information on the district’s ACT improvement strategy, please contact: