A report released Wednesday shows that Oklahoma high school students scored lower than their peers nationally on the ACT college entrance exam.
A few bright spots show progress, but the report shows more work needs to be done, state schools Superintendent Janet Barresi said.
“Oklahoma kids aren't just going to compete with Oklahoma kids for jobs and careers,” she said. “They have to be able to compete nationally and internationally. The gaps remain and we've got to close those gaps.”
Oklahoma fell behind the national average overall, according to the report released by ACT Inc.
Students here averaged a 20.7 out of a possible 36, compared to a 21.1 average nationwide.
Oklahoma students kept up with students nationwide in English and reading, but they fell short in math and science.
The English average in Oklahoma was 20.4, compared to 20.5 nationally, according to the report. The reading score was 21.3 in Oklahoma and nationwide. The math average here was 20.6, below the national average of 20.9.
The biggest gap was in science. Oklahoma students scored an average of 20.1. Nationally, students scored 21.1.
It's a reminder that more work has to be done, Barresi said.
“This is where we need to double down on the rigor and attention in our science courses and our science curriculum,” she said.
More taking exam
The report also shows signs of improvement, Barresi said.
About 80 percent of Oklahoma graduates this year took the ACT — more than ever before. Normally, scores drop when more students are factored into the equation, but Oklahoma scores have remained stable, Barresi said.
“That's a bright indicator,” she said, “but I'm still not satisfied. The results continue to underscore the importance of rigor.”
Barresi said Oklahoma students are starting to reap the benefits of education reform, such as the graduation requirements outlined in Achieving Classroom Excellence, also known as ACE.
“I think these youngsters are becoming more and more confident and hopefully developing a desire to take the ACT,” she said.
Racial divide exists
The report also shows gaps among racial groups. Black, Hispanic, American Indian and Pacific Islander students aren't likely to score as highly as their white and Asian counterparts, the report shows.
For example, only 8 percent of black students scored an 18 or higher out of 36 on the science section of the exam, compared to 38 percent of Asian students and 31 percent of white students.
“The gap in all of these areas is unacceptable,” Barresi said. “We need to double down on our effort to bring students that are in these minority areas back into this.”
One way the state Education Department is working to close the gap is by identifying and helping the state's lowest-performing schools.
But another sign of hope, Barresi said, is that more American Indian students are taking the ACT than in the past.
“While a gap remains, those kids actually outpaced — in their composite scores — American Indian kids from all other states,” Barresi said. “It is very encouraging.”
Also, the number of Hispanic students has more than doubled in the past four years, and the average composite score has gone from 18.9 to 19.0, she said.
“We're excited those kids are increasing their work in that area,” Barresi said. “They've greatly increased in numbers and have slightly increased their performance.”