Concerns have been raised in Oklahoma after reports showed statewide ACT scores have again declined in the past year.

According to Oklahoma Watch, the average composite score dropped by .4 points to 18.9, which was 47th in the nation. Out of 15 states that tested 100 percent of its students in 2019, Oklahoma was 12th in ACT scores.

Administrators say schools in Cherokee County work to ensure students have enough resources to plan for the ACT. But the lower scores have Okies mulling what factors play into test results and how they can be improved.

Hulbert High School Principal Chad Botts said his staff is already looking at adjustments to curriculum and resources that can help raise student scores.

"I think we're 2 points away from the state average, so we want to reflect state average," said Botts. "So there are a few things walking into the test coming up in the spring. We've got to change our curriculum a little bit and our methods in our classroom."

A variety of factors could be blamed for the scores. While the ACT is used for college admissions, that doesn't mean every student who takes it aspired to attend college.

Botts said most students at Hulbert will go to vocational training or straight into the job market.

"With the kids who are going to college, naturally they're going to focus on having a score that is needed to make it into college," said Botts. "For the kids who aren't going to college - maybe they're going an alternate path - they don't take it as serious as they probably should. I see that as our challenge: how to motivate those kids and to get them to do their best."

Botts does like having the ACT as an end-of-year test, but he also suggested an alternate way to test a student's skills and abilities. He thinks many smaller districts are facing the same dilemma.

At Sequoyah High School, the average composite ACT score was a 18.4, out of a possible 36, while the state average was 18.9. Principal Jolyn Choate said the statewide trend is probably due to the fact that every student who graduates now from high school will have taken the ACT.

Of the 15 states that require students to take the ACT, Utah and Wisconsin had the highest results at 20.3. Choate said she's interested in how long states with higher scores have been testing 100 percent of their students. Wyoming and Kentucky both scored higher, with results of 19.8, and both began using the ACT as a statewide assessment in 2007. Meanwhile, Nevada scored among the lowest, with an average composite score of 17.9. The state only started testing all 11th-graders in 2016.

Through the Cherokee Foundation, SHS students can take college prep courses, such as the ACT Princeton Review and a separate ACT prep class that addresses different test-taking strategies. Choate said the school also implemented a teaching strategy last fall when she taught an Algebra 2 course.

"Every day as a bell ringer, we had a retired ACT prep question," she said. "It's on the board when the students come in. We had a journal where they wrote down the question and they tried to solve it. That gives me time to take roll, get the rest of my class set up so I can go on."

All schools help prepare students by offering sophomores a crack at the pre-ACT exam. If sophomores do well on the pre-ACT, they can apply for concurrent enrollment. Going a step further, Choate said she was looking for a way to prepare freshmen - and found one.

"It's called ACT Aspire, so all of my freshmen will take the Aspire test so they have an idea in four areas - math, English, reading, science reasoning - and the types of questions that are going to be asked when they get to the pre-ACT when they're sophomores," she said.

Because answers can be found easily through modern technology, Choate said students might just need a little more confidence and "intrinsic motivation" to succeed in difficult subjects. She said students should be taught that technology is a tool and not a crutch.

"Because they have everything so quickly and at their fingertips, they struggle with struggle," said Choate. "If they come to a bump, they just want to go, 'Well, I can't do this.'"

In 2018, Tahlequah High School's average composite ACT score was 18.7. During an October Tahlequah Public Schools Board of Education meeting, THS Principal Vicki Bush said "the ACT scores did go up overall, and in each subject over last year," and that the scores are above state levels. Bush did not return media inquiries by press time, however.

The Daily Press asked readers for their opinions on the matter during a Facebook Saturday Forum. Bridget Barlow argued that the ACT is too standardized to be given to a such a diverse group of people in Oklahoma.

"Oklahoma is made up of a very unique group of people," she wrote. "In the last few years alone, we have built the largest Indian health care hospital, legalized medical marijuana, and had a statewide teacher walkout. As each state continues to grow and develop, it will be hard to create a standardized test to show accurate results."

Some residents things Oklahoma needs to invest more in education. Cathy Cooper Cott wrote that the problems in scores will continue until the "Legislature and executive branch start funding our schools, paying teachers much better, an making education a priority."

Guidance from parents also seemed to be a common argument as to why scores have lowered. Troy Sanford agreed.

"Parents fail to take interest in their child's education, fail to send their child to school prepare and ready to learn, they fail to work with their child after school, and they fail to follow up with the child's teacher during the school year," Sanford wrote.

In an online poll, readers were asked whether they are concerned about the recent trend in ACT scores. Out of the 70 respondents, 32 said they are "very concerned," 15 said they are "somewhat concerned," 12 said they are "not especially concerned," and 11 said they are "not concerned at all."

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For more discussion on ACT scores, go to www.facebook.com/tdpress and scroll down to the Nov. 9 Saturday Forum.

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