Preparation of High School Students
One of the best predictors of a student’s potential success in college or in the workplace is the preparation received while in high school. Successfully completing rigorous courses will provide students with the knowledge and the critical-thinking skills necessary to accomplish their higher education and career goals.
One measure of how well students are prepared for college-level work is the ACT, a national assessment given to thousands of Oklahoma high school students each year. The ACT measures knowledge and skills in four subject areas: English, math, reading and science. Since 2002 Oklahoma’s composite average ACT score has fluctuated, while the national average has increased slightly. When ACT scores are broken down by subject, the greatest gap between Oklahoma and the nation is in math (chart 2A).
Students who score below 19 on an ACT subject area test may need to take remedial courses for that subject. More than 44,000 Oklahoma students enrolled in remedial courses in 2004-05, about 1,000 more than in the previous year. A majority of those students – 79.2 percent – were taught at community colleges, also the primary source of remediation nationally.
Students who require remediation graduate from college at a lower rate than those who do not. Also, students attending Oklahoma public colleges and universities pay a fee in addition to tuition for each remedial course they take. In the end, remediation costs time and money and creates a greater expense for students.
The State Regents have long been aware of the persistent issue about student preparation and have implemented several comprehensive programs and services to help middle and high school students prepare for college:
- Oklahoma’s Promise-OHLAP (Oklahoma Higher Learning Access Program)
- Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP)
- Oklahoma Educational Planning and Assessment System (EPAS)
Oklahoma’s Promise-OHLAP is a state-sponsored scholarship program that allows Oklahoma high school students whose family income is less than $50,000 a year the opportunity to earn free college tuition if they take rigorous courses in high school, make at least a 2.5 grade point average, stay out of trouble and refrain from abusing drugs and alcohol. A federally funded program that helps middle and high school students prepare for college, GEAR UP provides academic preparation programs for students, professional development activities for educators, and college access information for students and parents. Oklahoma EPAS is an ACT-based assessment tool that shows eighth and 10th graders how they are progressing in key academic areas as they prepare for the ACT. Eighth-grade students take the EXPLORE test, while 10th graders take the PLAN test. According to the most recent EXPLORE, PLAN and ACT tests, many Oklahoma students need help now in order to reach college readiness levels (graph 3A). Based on the latest ACT scores, 66 percent of Oklahoma high school students are prepared for college English, while just 32 percent are sufficiently prepared for college algebra and 23 percent for college biology.
Oklahoma’s Promise-OHLAP, GEAR UP and Oklahoma EPAS are helping produce some positive results in the state. For example, between the 1996-97 and 2004-05 academic school years, the remediation rate for first-time freshmen direct from Oklahoma high schools dropped from 37.3 percent to 36.2 percent.
Student preparation and planning for college will be easier for middle and high school students with the launch of a new Web site in 2007 called OKcollegestart.org. The site will provide students and parents a place where they can perform several tasks from one central location, such as seeking and applying for federal and state financial aid, applying to multiple colleges, creating their own portfolios, preparing for the ACT, learning about career opportunities, taking virtual tours of the various campuses and requesting transcripts. High school counselors will also benefit from OKcollegestart.org by allowing them to keep better track of their students’ academic progress toward college.
The State Regents support the governor’s Achieving Classroom Excellence (ACE) initiative that will significantly improve students’ preparation for college and the workplace, as well as help increase the state’s ACT scores. ACE brings high school graduation requirements in line with college admission and the ACT-recommended core college-preparatory curriculum.