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Preparation of High School Students  

To be successful in college, students need to begin preparing while still in high school. Completing rigorous courses in high school provides students with the knowledge and critical-thinking skills necessary to achieve their higher education and career goals.

The ACT, a national assessment given to thousands of Oklahoma high school students each year, measures how well students are prepared for college-level work. The ACT measures knowledge and skills in four subject areas: English, math, reading and science. In 2008, Oklahoma experienced the highest number of test takers – 27,131 or 70.6 percent – of the college entrance exam in seven years. The nation’s average composite score in 2008 declined as a result of lower scores in English, reading and, most noticeably, science. However, Oklahoma students achieved the same composite score on the exam as the class of 2007 – 20.7. When ACT scores are broken down by subject, the greatest gap between Oklahoma and the nation is in math (chart 3A).

Students who score below 19 on an ACT subject area test may need to take remedial courses for that subject. More than 39,000 Oklahoma students enrolled in remedial courses in 2006-07, about 2,500 less than in the previous year. A majority of those students – 80.5 percent – were taught at community colleges, also the primary source of remediation nationally.

Students who require one or more remedial courses graduate from college at a lower rate than those who do not require remediation. 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.

In order to ensure students are prepared for college after high school, the State Regents have implemented several comprehensive programs and services to help middle and high school students prepare for college:

Oklahoma’s Promise is a state-sponsored scholarship program that allows Oklahoma high school students whose family income is less than $50,000 a year – during the student’s eighth-, ninth- or 10th-grade 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. Oklahoma’s Promise is recognized by many as America’s best college access program and is considered a model that emphasizes both academic preparation and financial support for college.

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.

In 2007, GEAR UP awarded nearly $600,000 to 23 school districts and sites across Oklahoma to help fund professional development for teachers as they adopt new classroom strategies proven to help students learn more effectively. The grants will also provide much-needed funding for student tutoring, mentoring, career exploration programs and ACT prep materials.

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 4A). Based on the latest ACT scores, 68 percent of Oklahoma high school students are prepared for college English, while just 32 percent are sufficiently prepared for college algebra and 24 percent for college biology.

Since the inception of Oklahoma EPAS, Oklahoma students have increased their college readiness levels in English and math by a total of eight percentage points. These increased college-readiness levels represent a savings to the citizens of Oklahoma of more than $3.9 million in developmental and remediation costs for the 2008-09 school year.

Oklahoma’s Promise, GEAR UP and Oklahoma EPAS are helping produce some positive results in the state. For example, between the 1998-99 and 2006-07 academic school years, the remediation rate for first-time freshmen direct from Oklahoma high schools dropped from 37.3 percent to 35 percent, which is the second-lowest in 10 years, matching the 2003 remediation rates.

Student preparation and planning for college is easier for middle and high school students with OKcollegestart.org. This comprehensive, Web-based information system is a “one-stop” destination for students and parents who want to get ready for college. The site lets students create a customized profile, learn about paying for college, prepare for the ACT, explore careers and find a college that is right for them.

The State Regents support the governor’s Achieving Classroom Excellence (ACE) initiative that significantly improves students’ preparation for college and the workplace, as well as helps 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.

OSUIT student
Photo courtesy of Oklahoma State University Institute of Technology.