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Oklahoma, Oklahoma State featured in CNN report on literacy gap

by Ryan Aber Modified: January 7, 2014 at 7:20 pm •  Published: January 7, 2014

University of Oklahoma professor Gerald Gurney‘s data is prominently featured in a CNN report on the academic gap, especially in reading levels, between student-athletes at several schools and general student populations at those schools.

The report, by CNN correspondent Sara Ganim, began with data compiled by University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill adviser Mary Willingham. Willingham, as a graduate student at UNC-Greensboro, researched reading levels of 183 UNC-Chapel Hill football and basketball players. Of the group, from 2004 to 2012, she found that around 70 percent read below the eighth-grade level, with between eight and 10 percent reading below the third-grade level.

The only other previously compiled data CNN found on the subject was by Gurney, an assistant professor of adult and higher education at OU. Gurney previously was OU’s senior associate athletics director from 1993-2011.

Gurney examined 109 specially admitted students between 2007 and 2009 and found that 19.2 percent scored below a 17 on the ACT or below 820 on the SAT. The average student at OU scores a 26 composite ACT score and an average 575 SAT verbal, according to

CNN requested both ACT and SAT entrance scores of incoming football and basketball players between 2007 and 2012 but did not get a response from the school.

CNN didn’t contact every public school in the country, instead targeting a group of public schools where open records laws were applicable. The organization requested data from 37 schools and got responses from 21. Others denied requests for entrance exam or aptitude test scores while some citing privacy rules and others saying the information did not exist. Several schools did not respond before the story was published Tuesday.

Oklahoma State was also one of the schools from which CNN requested data.

OSU gave the network scores for 365 students. Of those, 48 (13.2 percent) scored below the college literacy threshold (16 ACT, 400 SAT).

Some athletes took the tests more than once and if they did, were only counted as having scored below the threshold if they scored below the mark in all tests.

The average athlete score was 20 for the ACT reading and English tests and 440 on the SAT critical reading test. According to the OSU admissions department, the average score for a freshman admitted to OSU was 25.1 for 2013. The average SAT critical reading score for a freshman at OSU was 543 according to

Between 2007 and 2012, 81 student-athletes playing football or men’s basketball were given alternative admission to OSU. Those athletes would not have otherwise been admitted based on scores and grades alone.

by Ryan Aber
OU Athletics Reporter
Ryan Aber has worked for The Oklahoman since 2006, covering high schools, the Oklahoma City RedHawks, the Oklahoma City Barons and OU football recruiting. An Oklahoma City native, Aber graduated from Northeastern State. Before joining The...
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