Oklahoma students made the most significant gains in the nation on the ACT test this year, with all minority groups posting record highs, the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education announced recently.
Regents also reported that scores in all subject areas are at all-time highs. For the first time, scores also surpassed the national average in at least one subject area, English, and scores for Oklahomans taking core courses in high school matched the national ACT average for students taking core courses. Additionally, a record number of Oklahoma students took the test.
Regents attribute the progress to more students, especially minorities, better preparing for college as a result of local and statewide initiatives. But they note that even greater progress could be made in all subject areas, especially math, if more students would take core courses.
The 2000 Oklahoma graduating class achieved an average composite ACT score of 20.8, up 0.2 point from 20.6 in 1999 and up 0.7 point from 20.1 in 1991. The national average composite score of 21.0 equals the 1999 score and is up 0.4 point over the 1991 score.
The rise in Oklahoma's scores is due in large part to the increasing performance of minority students, according to the Regents. For example, Oklahoma Asian American students increased their composite score by 0.6 point over last year and a full point over five years ago. African American students increased their score 0.4 point over last year and 0.3 point over their score in 1996, while American Indian/Alaskan Native students increased their score by 0.2 point over last year and 0.3 point over five years ago.
"This is an exciting day in the history of Oklahoma education," said Chancellor Hans Brisch. "Although we have been seeing steady increases in scores over the last 10 years, this is the first time in history that Oklahoma has outperformed all other states in growth. And we are pleased to report that Oklahoma minority students are responsible for much of the state's progress.
"Oklahomans in all levels of education -- teachers, parents and students -- deserve a lot of credit for these hard won gains," Brisch added. "The commitment of Oklahoma teachers to their students as well as to enhancing their professional development has served as a catalyst to better prepare our students for college and the marketplace."
A record number of the 2000 Oklahoma graduating class took the ACT, which is used by Oklahoma colleges and universities as part of the admissions process. A perfect score on the exam is 36.
A total of 27,850 students, or 71 percent of the 2000 class, took the test, ranking Oklahoma 10th in the nation in test participation. ACT data shows that from 1999 to 2000, the number of Oklahoma high school students taking the test increased 5 percent. Since 1991, the number of Oklahoma students taking the ACT has increased 36 percent.
The percentage of Oklahoma minority students taking the test is also up. For example, since 1996, the number of American Indian/Alaskan Native students taking the test increased 31 percent, while the number of African American students taking the ACT increased 29 percent.
"Typically, composite scores decline when a large number of students take the ACT. In Oklahoma, however, more students are taking the test, and they are earning higher scores, an indication that a greater number of students are preparing for college-level coursework and today’s demanding jobs," Brisch said.
"We believe this is a direct result of the Regents' Educational Planning and Assessment System (EPAS), a voluntary career and academic assessment program for eighth and 10th graders," Brisch said. "The program tests students to determine their progress in core courses and provides feedback to schools, students and parents that is used to change curriculum and course-taking patterns as needed."
Regents also reported that Oklahoma students earned record highs in all subject areas. The Oklahoma English score of 20.6 is up 0.2 point over last year, 0.8 point over the 1991 score and 0.1 point over this year's national average of 20.5.
Oklahoma’s reading score of 21.3 is up 0.3 point since last year and 0.6 point since 1991, closing the gap on the national score of 21.4. The state's science reasoning score of 20.8 is also up 0.3 point from last year and 0.6 point since 1991, gaining ground on the national score of 21.0.
While Oklahoma's math score of 19.9 is up 0.1 point from last year and 0.7 point from 1991, it is 0.8 point behind the national score of 20.7.
"The assessment system we put into place for eighth and 10th grade students has indicated that many students are not obtaining the skills and knowledge they need to be successful in college-level math," Brisch said. "The feedback has allowed us to begin addressing math performance through a number of initiatives.
"While we continue to encourage more students to take core courses in math, we have also undertaken projects to align math education at all levels, expand professional development opportunities for current math teachers and enhance the education of future teachers," Brisch said.
Overall, students who did the best on the ACT - regardless of their ethnic background or family income - are those who completed at least the ACT 13 core academic high school courses. Oklahoma students who took core courses scored 2.6 points higher overall on the ACT than students taking non-core classes.
Also, Oklahoma students who took core high school courses scored the same as national core test takers for the first time, earning a 22. At the same time, Oklahoma minority and low-income students who took the core courses outscored their national counterparts.
Oklahoma American Indian/Alaskan Native students earned 0.9 point higher than their national peers, while African American students earned 0.6 point higher and Mexican American/Chicano/Latino earned 0.5 point higher.
Oklahoma students from families earning less than $18,000 who took the core courses earned one point higher than their national counterparts.
The ACT core curriculum, which is designed to prepare students for college, includes four years of English and three years of specified math, social sciences and natural science courses.
ACT reports that approximately 52 percent of Oklahoma's 2000 high school graduating class took the ACT core curriculum, up seven percentage points from 45 percent in 1991. Nationally, 63 percent of the nation's 2000 graduates reported taking the full core, up from 51 percent in 1991.
"While the percentage of Oklahoma students taking core courses has increased during the 1990s, both the percentage of students taking core courses and the rate of change lag behind the nation's," Brisch said. "We need to continue to encourage students to take more core courses in order to be prepared for life after high school."
Regents noted that over the past decade, higher education has increased its efforts to prepare students early for college. In addition to establishing EPAS, the Regents
"Our long-time commitment to preparing our students early for life after school is paying off for our children," said State Regents Chairman Leonard J. Eaton Jr., noting that last year Oklahoma was awarded approximately $49 million in federal grants to better prepare students for college.
"We expect to see even greater progress as we expand our college and career preparation programs over the next several years," Eaton said.
The GEAR UP grant was awarded to Oklahoma in August 1999 and has been matched by more than $25 million from state and partner resources. With funds totaling $45.5 million, GEAR UP receives 45 percent of total funding from the federal government and 55 percent from other organizations.