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April 13, 2005 :: Latest EPAS Test Scores Both an Encouragement and a Concern

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Oklahoma’s eighth and 10th graders are either meeting or beating national norms in all content areas, according to the latest Oklahoma Educational Planning and Assessment System (EPAS) tests. These latest results, however, are in stark contrast to the most recent ACT scores which show that by 11th and 12th grade, Oklahoma students continue to score well below their national counterparts.

In a report released by the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education, 10th-grade students who participated in the Oklahoma PLAN test scored, on average, three-tenths of a scale score point higher than their national counterparts in English, mathematics, reading and science reasoning. The tests also revealed that, on average, African Americans, Native Americans and Hispanics scored under the national norms in all areas. PLAN scores range from 1 to 32.

ACT scores for the state’s juniors and seniors were slightly higher this past year, but scores for their national counterparts continue to be much higher, especially in math and science. It’s that gap that has higher education officials worried.

“We are pleased that, as a whole, our 10th graders are performing better than other 10th graders across the country on the EPAS tests,” Chancellor Paul G. Risser said. “We are concerned, however, that our students lose ground between the 10th grade and the time they take the ACT. There is still more work to be done to properly prepare all of our students for college-level work. This is important to their future and our state’s future.”

The EPAS report also revealed that Caucasians and Asians surpassed national norms on the PLAN tests in all areas, while scores were lower in every content area for African-American, Native-American and Hispanic students. In addition, female students outscored their male counterparts in all content areas except mathematics.

Oklahoma EPAS is a comprehensive testing, guidance 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. Students will typically score two to four scale score points higher on the ACT after having taken the PLAN test. The ACT score range is 1 to 36.

As a whole, Oklahoma’s eighth graders scored an average of two-tenths of a scale score point lower on the EXPLORE test than their national counterparts. In the content subject areas of English and science reasoning, eighth graders scored one-tenth of a scale score point lower but the same in reading. In mathematics, however, Oklahoma’s eighth graders’ average score was four-tenths of a scale point lower. EXPLORE scores range from 1 to 25.

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

Students also answered several questions on the EXPLORE and PLAN tests that dealt with key areas such as academic preparation and their future plans. Sixty-eight percent of eighth graders and 67 percent of 10th graders indicated that they have aspirations of attending a college or university following high school. But disturbingly, only 40 percent of eighth graders and 42 percent of 10th graders felt their classes were challenging.

“The test results magnify what we have learned from other recent studies. Many students are not taking the rigorous courses they need to be successful in college, especially in mathematics. In addition, the content of what is being taught in some of our middle schools and high schools is not challenging enough to the students,” Risser said.

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 first began as a pilot project in 1993. Today, nearly 490 of Oklahoma’s 540 public school districts, many private schools and one Bureau of Indian Affairs school participate in the program.

Nearly 42,000 eighth graders took the EXPLORE assessment test in 2004-2005, while more than 38,000 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.

Together with financial aid support from OHLAP (Oklahoma Higher Learning Access Program) and outreach support provided through the federal GEAR UP (Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs) program, EPAS continues to be a valuable tool for Oklahoma middle and high school students.