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April 7, 2004 :: EPAS Test Results Show Improvement Needed in Some Areas

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When it comes to the building blocks of a good education – English, math, reading and science reasoning – most of Oklahoma’s eighth and 10th graders are meeting or beating the national average, but minorities are not.

In a report released by the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education, eighth-and 10th-grade students who participated in the most recent Oklahoma Educational Planning and Assessment System (EPAS) tests either exceeded or met the national average in nearly all content areas. The tests also revealed that, on average, African Americans, Native Americans and Hispanics scored under the national norms in all areas.

“These tests are a good indication of how our middle and high school students are being prepared to compete in college and in a global economy,” Chancellor Paul G. Risser said. “I’m encouraged that so many school districts are involved in this process and that, for the most part, our eighth and tenth graders’ scores are holding their own against national norms. Achievement gaps still exist, so there is more work to be done.”

Oklahoma EPAS is a comprehensive testing, guidance, parent and career planning system funded by the State Regents and was developed to strengthen student academic preparation. Students are given two tests: the EXPLORE test in eighth grade and the PLAN test in 10th grade, which then culminates with the ACT test in 11th or 12th grade.

This latest report showed that Oklahoma’s eighth graders scored an average of one-tenth of a percentage point higher on the EXPLORE test than their national counterparts in the content areas of English and reading. They also scored the same as the national average in science reasoning. In mathematics, however, Oklahoma’s eighth graders’ average score was four-tenths of a percentage point lower.

When broken down into separate ethnic groups, Caucasian and Asian eighth-grade students exceeded the national average in all the content areas of the EXPLORE test, while African Americans, Native Americans and Hispanics did not.

As a whole, 10th graders exceeded the national average in every single content area of the PLAN test. Caucasians and Asians surpassed national averages in all areas, while scores were lower in every content area for African Americans, Native Americans and Hispanics. In addition, female students outscored their male counterparts in all content areas except mathematics.

“Even though a large number of our middle and high school students are doing rather well when compared to the national norms, many are not, especially in mathematics. This fact concerns us. We must also do all that we can to help our minority students reach their full potential academically or else our state will be hard pressed to meet the challenges of the 21st century,” Risser said.

Students also answered several questions on the EXPLORE and PLAN tests that dealt with key areas such as academic preparation and their future plans. Of all the responses, perhaps the most revealing was that only 40 percent of eighth graders and only 45 percent of 10th graders felt their classes were challenging, meaning more than half of all eighth and 10th graders thought their classes were not rigorous enough.

The State Regents originally created Oklahoma EPAS as a social justice initiative to strengthen student academic preparation following their decision to raise admissions standards in the 1990s. Only four school districts participated in the voluntary program when it began as a pilot project in 1993. Today, nearly 500 school districts, including 42 private schools and one Bureau of Indian Affairs school, participate.

More than 40,000 eighth graders took the EXPLORE assessment test in 2003-2004, while approximately 40,000 10th graders took the PLAN assessment test. The PLAN test scores represent what students would have made on the ACT assessment had they taken it that same day.