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Free ACT Tests For HS Juniors Has Lawmakers Concerned

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Oklahoma will now pay for all public high school juniors to take the ACT exam. Oklahoma will now pay for all public high school juniors to take the ACT exam.

Oklahoma will now pay for all public high school juniors to take the ACT exam. State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister made the announcement Wednesday.

The decision could give as many as 22,000 more juniors the chance to take the college entrance exam.

“I am focused on the 22,000 juniors who have been left behind, year after year,” said State Superintendent Hofmeister.

Hofmeister said Oklahoma school districts can opt-in to the voluntary program for free ACT tests, but the decision is still up to individual students whether they take advantage of it.

8/19/15 Related Story: Oklahoma Public HS Juniors Can Take ACT Exam Free Of Charge

“I never like even thought about taking the ACT until I heard it was going to be at my school,” said Andrew Johnson, an Oklahoma City Public Schools 11th Grader.

Taking the test for free is a game changer for Johnson.

“I was pretty shocked and I was interested, I can't wait to take it now,” Johnson told News 9.

Last year, 21 other states administered the ACT to all juniors. In Oklahoma, only half of the 44,000 public high school juniors took it.

OKCPS student Terria Rogers hopes that state statistic changes this year.

“We have some families who wouldn't be able to pay for the ACT, but now that the state is paying for it, I think every junior out there should want to take this,” Rogers explained.

In five years, it's estimated 62% of all jobs are going to require post-secondary education.

“This comes at a time when we recognize that high school diplomas are no longer enough for our students,” Hofmeister said.

The ACT is a college entrance exam and used as a predictor of college success. All Oklahoma colleges and universities have used the ACT for more than 55 years.

Hofmeister said the state department of education is funding the program through $1.5 million already budgeted for assessments.

“We've got to do something different,” Hofmeister said.  “We can't just hope that things change for kids, it takes action,” she added.

A survey over a three-day period found at least 400 school districts out of 464 were interested in taking part in the initiative. However, some lawmakers are criticizing the plan.

State Rep. Jason Nelson, R-Oklahoma City, issued this statement:

“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.”

House Speaker Jeffrey Hickman echoed those concerns, releasing this statement:

“Last session, the House developed House Bill 2088 which would have reduced state-mandated tests and protected the standards development process by ensuring adoption of certain standards before making any further testing decisions. This position has not changed. This new state program announced today takes another instruction day for testing and adds another test, which is contrary to the direction we hoped to take with House Bill 2088.”

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