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Tennessee high school student earns perfect ACT score, despite challenges with his vision

Zachary Carter is one of only 0.5% of students to achieve the rare, perfect score of 36 on the ACT test.

POWELL, Tenn. — Zachary (Zack) Carter is a junior at Powell High School. He is one of just 0.5% of students to achieve a perfect ACT score. It's a rare achievement. He is one of the first to achieve this score in Powell High School history.

So, who is the student behind the score?

Zack Carter is an active student. His résumé shows he is involved in just about everything. 

"I am involved in the band program and also the Powell High School Singers," Zachary said. "I really like math and science. I'm part of the Science Bowl team, as well. But I also love music."

Zack's journey to a perfect score was short and sweet. He got a 36 on his first attempt. But, Zack's educational journey wasn't always a smooth road.

"He has a motor nystagmus. So from birth, he's always had vision issues and has been legally blind," said Zack's mother, Stephanie.

She said Zack has had an uphill battle learning in traditional classrooms. He used services from Knox County Schools' vision services. He also had to learn to rely more on his hearing than his eyesight.

Where Zack lacks in sight, he makes up through his ability to memorize. 

"Being forced to memorize everything throughout my life has helped me to really develop those skills," Zack said. "That might have even helped me on the ACT test, and to remember, all the things I've learned in school."

"It makes me really proud that he's accomplished so much over the years, despite, you know, having challenges and things that he's had to push through. I am just so proud of him," Stephanie said. "But also, Zack has a lot of support. A lot of our family, a lot of teachers over the years have just really helped him and invested in him."

One of those people who invested in Zack's success is Micaiah Smoker, also called 'Coach Smoker.' He is the ACT coach at Powell High School. He said Zack took a boot camp course to learn more about what to expect on the exam.

"I knew of him and his accomplishments, you know? He is involved in so much in the school, with extracurriculars, but when he came to the boot camp, I do remember him being very attentive," Coach Smoker said.

Coach Smoker said the test is extremely complicated. It takes a very bright student to pull off a perfect score.

"It is the highest level. It's mostly complicated word problems and math. It is extremely hard and you have to be extremely focused. And you have to have some background knowledge," Coach Smoker said.

He had seen students go through his program and achieve scores across the spectrum. He has also had a handful of students achieve scores in the 30s. However, this is the first time, according to Coach Smoker, that a student accomplished a perfect score in recent years.

"It's a monumental thing," Coach Smoker said.

Zack said he wants to major in mechanical engineering in college. He isn't sure exactly what school he wants to go to, but he still has ample time to decide. 

His mom said this achievement is a result of his hard work and determination.

"What sticks out to me is his attitude to not give up. And to just keep pushing forward, no matter what's in front of him," Stephanie said.

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