The recently released ACT scores indicated a small increase in composite scores, both nationally and in Oklahoma, but they continue to show that many Oklahoma students need to be better prepared, especially for college math and science courses.
Oklahoma’s average composite score rose one-tenth of a point to 20.6 (on a scale of 1-36), compared to the 20.5 reported each of the last three years. The national average also rose one-tenth of a point to 20.9, the first national increase in three years. That means that Oklahoma student scores continue to lag behind the national average, but are showing steady improvement from the 20.0 posted in 1992.
The Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education have been working in cooperation with secondary school officials to continue to narrow the achievement gaps that exist in the state’s K-12 schools. After establishing a stronger core curriculum requirement in 1992, the State Regents worked with ACT to establish the Oklahoma Educational Planning and Assessment System (EPAS). From a four-school pilot program in 1993, today nearly 96 percent of the public schools’ eighth and 10th graders in the state attend a school that participates in EPAS.
Through this voluntary program, schools administer tests to students in the eighth and 10th grade to measure readiness to take the ACT exam. The eighth and 10th grade tests show if students are on the path to being ready for college in math, reading, English, and science reasoning. Test results are then provided to students, parents and teachers. The detailed results identify areas that need additional work, help teachers revise lesson plans and help students make course of study and career decisions.
In addition to the steady increase in ACT scores, the program has had other positive results.
Concern about college preparation continues, however, particularly in the area of math and science. Well-paying jobs increasingly demand the kind of skills acquired from taking more math. Currently, only 50 percent of the latest high school class is ready for entry-level college math courses. This is due, in large part, to students not taking enough years of rigorous math courses.
According to the latest ACT results, Oklahoma students who took at least the minimum number of core courses fared several points better than those that took less than core. Those students who took core or more posted an average composite score of 21.7. For those students who took less than core, their average was 18.9. Nationally, the figures are 21.9 for core or more and 19.4 for less than core.
Equally, it is important for students to pay attention to what core courses are best to take in high school to prepare them for college. For example, students who only took Algebra I, Algebra II and geometry scored, on average, only 17.1 on the math portion of the ACT. Stronger math preparation is needed to enter college math courses without having to take costly and time-consuming remedial courses.
College readiness requires a significant effort by students, parents and teachers. The EPAS program, funded by the State Regents, is a powerful tool that provides an effective way of measuring the levels of college preparation while there is still time to make improvements.