Every public school district in Oklahoma will be able to choose between the ACT and SAT college entrance exams for high school juniors this spring, State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister announced Tuesday.
Schools have been anxiously awaiting the results of a competitive bidding process conducted by the state Office of Management and Enterprise Services to learn which vendor would be selected for the new state-mandated test.
Administering the test this spring will be optional, but it is strongly encouraged so that schools can be well-prepared for next year, when students’ scores on one of the college entrance exams will likely determine whether the state considers them proficient.
Hofmeister said both companies are excellent choices, so she took the option of selecting both in an effort to increase local control for schools across the state.
“Access to the ACT and SAT opens up an on-ramp to post-secondary education for all Oklahoma public school students, many of whom might not otherwise consider college to be a possibility,” said Hofmeister. “By easing the path from K-12 to college or CareerTech, we can help ensure that Oklahomans will be competitive in our rapidly changing, technology-driven global marketplace.”
Oklahoma’s new academic standards, as well as the proposed new student assessments and overhaul of the A-F school accountability system, are designed with greater emphasis on college and career readiness and the need to close achievement gaps between minority and low-income students and their higher-achieving peers.
Tulsa Superintendent Deborah Gist hailed Tuesday’s announcement as an opportunity to raise the bar for public schools and their graduates.
“We are so pleased that our students will benefit from access to a nationally recognized assessment that can help open the door to post-secondary success,” Gist said. “It is our hope that these high-quality assessments, along with our district’s continued commitment to exceptional instruction, will help to increase college acceptance and enrollment rates for students across our district. We are grateful to Superintendent Hofmeister and her team for leading this innovative approach to assessment and accountability in our state.”
Last legislative session, Oklahoma lawmakers eliminated the state’s seven, high-stakes end-of-instruction exams for high-schoolers. For the current academic year only, all high school sophomores will take a state test in math, English, science and U.S. history to meet state and federal requirements.
The state Board of Education has recommended that a college- and career-readiness exam become the required high school test beginning in 2017-18, and the plan is awaiting approval by the Oklahoma Legislature and Gov. Mary Fallin.
The move to a college entrance exam began in 2015-16 with a statewide pilot program, in which all but two of Oklahoma’s 459 public high schools provided the ACT for juniors.
As a result, 79 percent — or 35,477 of all 45,071 11th-graders — took the test, compared to a little more than half the year before. The average composite score was 18.9.
By comparison, 32,854, or 82 percent, of graduating seniors took the ACT last year, and their average composite score was 20.4. For admissions purposes, regional universities require a minimum ACT composite score of 20, while the University of Oklahoma’s minimum is 24.
The number of Oklahoma high school graduates in 2016 who took the SAT was 1,503, or less than 4 percent, but Hofmeister said: “Offering districts the choice of the ACT or SAT gives more control back to our communities. Districts are more likely to know the individual needs of their students and which tool will best serve their students.”
The ACT/SAT program is free for schools and students and will be funded through the state Department of Education’s existing student assessment budget. Steffie Corcoran, a spokeswoman for the department, said the estimated cost of $4.4 million would save the state $2.4 million annually compared to the cost of administering the old End of Instruction exams.