Looking at the ACT results that were released last week was a mixed blessing.
On one hand, I celebrate progress. ACT's 2013 Condition of College and Career Readiness report shows that more Oklahoma graduating seniors are ready for college and career than in previous years. The percentage of the state's 2013 graduates who met all four benchmarks in English, reading, science and math rose to 23 percent from 17 percent in 2008.
Other bright spots on the report are the percent of students meeting the reading and English benchmarks exceeds the national average – 45 percent vs. 44 percent and 66 percent vs. 64 percent, respectively.
In addition, composite scores among minority students in Oklahoma were higher than those of their national counterparts.
This is all good news, and I applaud the work of the students who took these tests, their teachers who helped them prepare and their parents and other family and community members who offered support.
Then there’s the other hand. Only 23 percent of our seniors met benchmark scores in the four subjects tested; 29 percent of those who took the test met no benchmarks. Only 37 percent of Oklahoma students met the math benchmarks, and 35 percent met the science benchmarks, compared with the national 44 percent and 36 percent figures, respectively.
So, while I’m pleased with the progress we’ve made, I’m not satisfied. We simply must have more of our students prepared for the rigors of college, workforce training and career by the time they graduate high school.
Achieving a benchmark score indicates that a student has a 50 percent chance of earning a B in a college level course and a 75 percent chance of earning a C. If students are not prepared for college coursework, they will be forced to take remedial courses, which cost money and earn no credit. If they opt to go straight to the workforce unprepared, they risk being stuck in low-paying jobs.
Preparing students for college, career and citizenship means we give them every opportunity to succeed and lead the life they want to live.
During my time as State Superintendent I'm doing a great deal to ensure that we’re preparing our students for the road ahead of them.
I’ve hired literacy coaches to travel throughout the state providing job-embedded reading instruction to classroom teachers. I’ve partnered with Think Through Math to boost Algebra-readiness by eighth grade. I've sent teams from my office of instruction to hold free professional development sessions for teachers and administrators throughout the state. I hosted the Vision 2020 conference this summer, offering even more professional development.
I’ve welcomed a partnership is with the non-profit National Math and Science Initiative and their corporate sponsors to provide additional Advanced Placement coursework and Advanced Placement professional development to teachers in select Oklahoma high schools.
I’ve also pushed for staying the course on needed education reforms. These include Achieving Classroom Excellence requirements, which helps ensure graduating seniors have mastered necessary coursework; the transition to increasingly rigorous academic standards, which ensure students learn to think on their feet and solve problems; and the A-F School Report Card, which shows parents and community members how students in their local schools are performing.
The ACT report shows us we’ve got our work cut out for us, but it also shows progress. We must continue to work together for the benefit of our students. Working together is how we will succeed in building a stronger Oklahoma.