Tahlequah High School math department head and teacher Chuck Pack drills students on problems during class Monday. Photo by Teddye Snell

Ever since former President George W. Bush made “No Child Left Behind” a national educational mandate, school administrators, teachers and students have worked diligently to improve standardized test scores.

According to recent data, the effort is paying off –not only in end-of-instruction testing, but on the ACT college entrance exam, too.

In a press release issued last week, the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education indicated Oklahoma high school seniors taking the ACT last spring showed modest gains in math and science over their 2008 state counterparts. Data released by the testing entity showed 2009 seniors scored an average of 19.9 in math and 20.5 in science on the test, which is 0.1 point higher than last year’s scores in both areas.

This compares to a national average of 21.0 in math and 20.9 in science. The national average in math remained unchanged from last year; however, the average in science increased by 0.1 point.

On a county level, Tahlequah High School students’ composite scores were slightly lower than the national average, with THS students scoring 20.1, and the national average at 21.4.

Tahlequah Public Schools Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction Lisa Presley indicated while local students fared well, she’d like to see improvement.

“Our students do fine, but of course, we want them to do better,” said Presley. “We’re in a push to have more of our students take the ACT. We received the result for 2009, and we had almost 40 more students take it than the year before.”

Presley said high school students who are enrolled in core classes - which includes four years of English and three years of math – perform significantly better than those who aren’t.

“I hate to say we’re never satisfied, but we want more students taking [the ACT] and we want higher scores,” said Presley. “The way to do that is to take core classes, and have our students taking the ACT multiple times. Hopefully, with our Gear Up grant, we can see to that. One of our Gear Up counselors is applying to see that THS can be a testing site, which is a big deal.”

Right now, area students generally take the ACT test administered at Northeastern State University, which can be intimidating for some students, said Presley.

“I know NSU is right in our own back yard, but it still sometimes prevents students from participating,” she said. “They may not know what building the test is in, or where to park. It can be very confusing.”

Presley believes that if THS becomes a testing site, more students will participate.

State Superintendent Sandy Garrett said Oklahoma’s ACT results are in line with the state’s high school End-of-Instruction scores, and both highlight important facts about college readiness.

“College remediation rates are based on ACT scores, and ACT scores mirror our EOI scores,” said Garrett. “What these scores tell us is that rigor is lacking in some schools, and too many students are not making the most of the four years they are given in high school. In 2009, completion of four years of rigorous core courses is a prerequisite to college, and work readiness.”

If EOI scores are an indicator, THS is on track to improve ACT scores at the end of this year, as well.

“Our students scored 90 percent EOI in algebra according to the preliminary results,” said THS Principal Jeff Thorne. “That means we scored better than 90 percent of all students statewide, which puts us in the elite school category. In four areas – algebra 1, algebra 2, English 3 and geometry – our average score was 85 percent, and that included our special education classes. I think that makes us the elite school in northeast Oklahoma.”

While students at THS fared well, according to the 2008 State School Report Card, Hulbert students need improvement. The composite ACT score for students graduating from HHS in 2008 was 15.5.

Hulbert Superintendent Dr. David Wilkins took the helm July 1, and is working to make some changes.

“One of the big things we’ve been doing is working with principals to make sure there are no big gaps in curriculum – not just at the high school level, but in all grades, kindergarten through 12,” said Wilkins. “We’re making sure everyone’s teaching what they’re supposed to be teaching. That’s the biggest thing we’re doing. Part of it, too, is we’ve hired some really good teachers, which is going to help.”

Wilkins said Hulbert is conducting benchmarking on a quarterly basis, to pinpoint areas of concern.

“When we find kids who are behind, we’ll provide some remediation plans that will help them get caught up, including weekend and after-school programs,” said Wilkins.

Keys High School students’ composite ACT scores were slightly below the state average in 2008, at 18 points. Like other superintendents, Keys’ Jerry Hood said they’re always looking to improve.

“We’ve hired a new biology teacher, and moved the former biology teacher into higher science classes, including biology 2 and chemistry,” he said. “We’re always working to improve scores, and I believe we have great teachers. Scores differ from year to year, just as classes differ from year to year. I’ve always said scores depend on who’s taking the test, and I continue to believe that.

Data released by ACT also indicated Oklahoma’s three largest groups of minorities – Native Americans, African Americans and Hispanics – continue to perform above their national peers. The composite ACT for Native Americans in Oklahoma climbed 0.2 points to 19.7 for 2009, which is 0.8 higher than their national peers.

While students at Sequoyah, a Native American private school, are not part of the state’s public school system, many students take the test. Sequoyah’s average ACT test score is 18.6, an increase of 2.4 points over the past five years.

“Sequoyah has added an ACT prep class to our course schedule to help students become more ready to take the ACT,” said Kim Livingston, Sequoyah Schools’ ACT test coordinator. “We encourage our entire student body to take the test, and most do, since we are an official ACT testing site. This gives our students a chance to take it several times during their high school career and get comfortable with the testing format.”

Debra Nelson, senior counselor at SHS, believes scores will continue to improve.

“We are showing a significant increase in the ACT benchmark for college readiness,” said Nelson. “We have increased in this area by an average of 3 points over the past five years.”


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