KGOU

State To Pay For ACT Test For All Oklahoma 11th Graders

Aug 20, 2015

The State Department of Education wants more Oklahoma kids to go to college, so it’s launching a pilot program that would make it easier for all students to apply.

This year, high school juniors in the state won’t have to pay to take the ACT college entrance exam because the Department of Education is picking up the tab.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister says only half of high school juniors took the test last year—and she doesn’t think that’s good enough. She says the fee to take the test and the driving distance to the testing center deters a lot of students from taking it.

“This is one step in clearing the hurdle to allow students to have access for more opportunities,” Hofmesiter said.

The test won’t be mandatory—high schools can choose to join the program—and kids only have to take it if they want. House Speaker Jeff Hickman (R-Fairview) said lawmakers only learned about the program last week, and he says completing new academic standards should be the Department of Education's priority over future decisions on state testing.

“With the continued pressure on state revenues from the decline in oil prices and the layoffs of thousands of Oklahomans, every education dollar should be spent to support the classroom, ensuring Oklahoma students are college and career ready,” Hickman 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.”

The program will last a year and cost $1.5 million. The department says these dollars were already appropriated for assessments.

State Rep. Jason Nelson (R-Oklahoma City), who serves on the House Common Education Committee, said data he’s seen shows 75 percent of Oklahoma high school students already take the ACT, and the state shouldn't prioritize a pilot program for something that's already happening.

“That the Department was able to identify a surplus of $1.5 million with which to begin a new pilot program is surprising considering the state superintendent expressed ‘severe disappointment’ over the level of appropriations to education last session,” Nelson said in a statement. “I certainly think, as a general rule, that education funds are best allocated through the state per pupil funding formula to follow students to their local school districts and student choice programs. If there are savings to be found in the state’s testing program it would seem to make sense to push that money to the students through the formula.”