- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 19, 2015

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - Every high school junior in Oklahoma would have the opportunity to take the ACT college-preparatory test for free during the upcoming school year under a voluntary pilot program launched Wednesday by state education officials.

State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister announced the plan to use $1.5 million in state funding that’s already allocated for testing to pay for the program, which gives every public school district the opportunity to provide the tests at schools.

Only about half of Oklahoma’s roughly 44,000 juniors take the ACT test each year, which is the primary test used in Oklahoma to qualify to attend college, Hofmeister said.

“This pilot, this voluntary, opt-in opportunity, will open the door for 22,000 juniors who would not have access otherwise,” Hofmeister said.

In previous years, juniors who wanted to take the ACT test would be responsible for paying the $39.50 testing fee and for transportation to and from off-campus testing sites.

“The advantage of taking it during school is because of the transportation,” said Teria Rogers, a junior at Millwood High School in northeast Oklahoma City. She said that without the pilot program, she might not otherwise be able to take the test.

“We get to take it with our classmates, with our peers. Also, we get to take it with our teachers who prepared us for the ACT,” she said.

Hofmeister said there currently are no plans to eliminate any of the state tests students are required to take.

Some state legislators voiced concern about Hofmeister’s use of state funding to pay for a new program at a time when the state is seeing declining revenue. House Speaker Jeff Hickman noted legislative leaders wrote a bill last year designed to reduce the number of state-mandated tests, although the bill eventually died in a conference committee.

“This new state program announced today … is contrary to the direction we hoped to take with House Bill 2088,” the Fairview Republican said in a statement. “While the goals of this new state program are noble, we have numerous challenges facing us within our existing education programs on which we must stay focused.”

Responding to the criticism from Hickman, a spokesman for the Department of Education, Phil Bacharach, said the program does not add a new test or an additional day of testing for students.

Oklahoma Parent Teacher Association President Brenda Heigl says she hopes the ACT ultimately will replace several end-of-instruction exams that Oklahoma high school seniors are currently required to pass before graduating.

“We all agree our children take way too many high-stakes test and we have to put an end to them,” Heigl said. “We’re hoping this will be the catalyst to make state legislators realize we’re taking too many tests, and the ACT can replace those tests.”

About 25 percent of Oklahoma residents have college degrees, compared with a national average of about 29 percent, Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education Chancellor Glen Johnson said.

“This announcement today will help our students and certainly strengthen that pipeline to college,” Johnson said.

According to Iowa-based ACT, about 75 percent of seniors in Oklahoma took the test last year and scored an average composite of 20.7, which is slightly below the national average score of 21.

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Follow Sean Murphy at www.twitter.com/apseanmurphy


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