Last night, state Superintendent of Public Instruction, Joy Hofmeister telephoned me. She was calling out of courtesy for ROPE's position against the use of ACT as an end of instruction (EOI) exam during the last legislative session to inform me that the Department of Education would supply grant funds for state publicly-schooled 11th graders to take the ACT.
Because last year's legislature was uncomfortable enough with the use of the ACT as an EOI to prevent passage of a bill to mandate its use, Mrs. Hofmeister wanted to assure me she was not attempting an end-around the legislature. This program was, instead, she explained, the result of numerous phone calls with administrators who - without the ability to continue their use of ACT's Explore and Plan tests - needed another way to judge student trajectory toward college preparedness. In addition Mrs. Hofmeister asserted that, as in California, less than 50% of Oklahoma students take the ACT, often because they can't afford it and/or lack a parent/guardian to get them to the testing site. Students who can't take the test don't know if they're college-ready material. Indications are that simply knowing they could meet enrollment standards might make students more willing to take the leap toward higher learning.**
Mrs. Hofmeister then asked my thoughts.
Frankly, it was hard to articulate all our concerns that spontaneously, but I was grateful to have been asked. I mentioned that Explore and Plan had different 'jobs' than the ACT - more career planning - while ACT was a test of college readiness. There is also the ever-expanding concern of college costs versus that of Career Tech. Studies indicate many students entering the workforce out of college take lower paying jobs with greater debt than those students who become certified in a trade. Why aren't we using the money to pay for the ACT for 'shop' classes or concurrent enrollment or work-study programs? Why a test to indicate college readiness?
Our conversation continued for many minutes to be sure, but it wasn't until I read the actual press release from the OSDE today that several more things came to mind:
- Early this year, Mrs. Hofmeister insisted that the OSDE not only needed more money, but could not suffer any further cuts or teacher job loss would ensue, increasing our already dire teacher shortage. Why wasn't the $1.5 million budgeted for assessments now being used to fund the ACT put back into the already-tight budget? Why use it to pay schools to give ACT to all 11th graders - especially when some can already afford it and those that can't can apply to the ACT for a fee waiver? Doesn't that solve the problem?
- The Explore and Plan tests did not function as the ACT. The Explore was given to students in 8th or 9th grade. It helped students "learn more about careers, clarify your goals and begin to plan your future..." Plan was given in 10th grade as a way to determine whether or not a student's coursework was on track to meet their goals. These tests have both been scrapped in favor of the Common Core aligned Aspire. Certainly, the Aspire test would have been met with some level of resistance from a number of quarters (including ours). So the ACT was next in line? How does the ACT - a test of college readiness - even sort of compare to the job done by the Explore and Plan? I honestly can't see this argument even a little.
- Why do we keep pushing college? Why is everything 'college-ready'? Study after study indicates that college graduates are graduating college with more debt and less ability to find a stable job - let alone one in their field. Though our state was 46th in the nation in student debt in 2013, our students had an average college debt of $22,174 over 53% of all college graduates from Oklahoma. That's a miserable statistic. (Tulsa University was the worst at 33K). While the "Workforce of the Future" does include more college graduates, it's important to note that those are only projected as 33% of the job market by 2018. That leaves 67% of the job market in the hands of the trades and skilled workers. Why are we never told this? Again, why do we keep pushing college?
- ACT has its own set of standards (the ACT College and Career Readiness Standards). Okay, that's fine, but isn't Oklahoma in the middle of a process to produce our own set of standards? Mission creep is a basic tenet of government anymore. Once this becomes a "free 11th grade test" how short is the step to "mandated 12th grade test"?
- Most college-bound seniors weren't proficient in basic skills in 2011. In fact, last year, only 22% of Oklahoma students taking the ACT met all four benchmarks of basic skills (English, Math, Science and Reading). ONLY 22%? Why in the world are we not putting the $1.5 million to work remediating students in basic skills now instead instead testing a readiness for college we already know MOST don't have? In fact, this has been the trend for the last four years, you'd think we might have a clue about what's causing high college remediation rates and be solving the issue not trolling the water for more data to show our poor college preparedness.
**During the writing of this blog, I went out to the State Department of Ed website to see if I could find graduation totals in order to do a bit of fact-checking, however, I was unable to find a total other than for each school/district and without an hour to do the addition, I moved on. ACT does have their State Profile Report for 2014 online and, while it doesn't provide a percentage of Oklahoma students who took the ACT in 2014, there are other stats reported there of interest.