Every graduating senior in Oklahoma last year took the ACT college entrance exam, but a startling 46% failed to meet the minimum benchmark in any academic category.

That ought to wake up elected leaders and policymakers to the needs of public schools. Local school leaders need to dig into why some students are graduating without the basic skills for college or careers.

Two years ago, the state dropped its problematic end-of-instruction tests in favor of using ACT scores to gauge student achievement as they reached the end of their secondary education.

It was a move away from over-testing students and to align curriculum toward college and career readiness. The ACT is used by Oklahoma higher education for admission.

For students not headed to college, the test is a good gauge of the ability to work toward higher-paying jobs in a robust workforce.

The latest ACT results show Oklahoma’s overall composite score fell by .04 points from the previous year, to 18.9 out of a possible 36, according to an Oklahoma Watch story. The national average is 20.7. Oklahoma ranks 12th among the 15 states in which 100% of students take the ACT.

The failure rate of meeting the basic standards rose from 43% in 2018.

There’s plenty of blame to go around, starting with the Legislature’s slashing of the education budget for a decade, which led to a teacher shortage, classroom overcrowding and elimination of school programs and class offerings.

After a 2017 teacher strike, an education tax increase and a wave of newly elected officials at the Capitol, change is happening gradually. Two years of putting funding toward restoration of teacher pay have been good first steps.

Next must come investments to bring back the courses, programs, interventions and other supports that directly impact students. Funding to the state aid formula, Oklahoma’s basic funding mechanism for school operations, still has not reached the education funding level of 10 years ago.

The state’s bad ACT results are a clear indicator that the state isn’t doing enough to build a qualified future workforce. More must be done to ensure Oklahoma high school diplomas have meaning.

~ The Tulsa World

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