Officials Call for `Beef Up' of State's Core Curricula

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This week's announced drop in Oklahoma high school graduates' average composite ACT score highlights the need to beef up core curricula -- especially in science and math -- with adoption of the "4 by 4" program, state officials said Thursday.

They said this lag hurts students' chances both in college and the workplace.

The ACT organization released figures showing that Oklahoma students' composite score fell 0.1 point this year, down to 20.5, although more students than ever are taking the college-entrance test. Subject-matter scores also dropped in math and science.

However, Oklahoma students outscored their counterparts in other Southwestern states: Arkansas, 20.4; Louisiana, 19.5; New Mexico, 20.1 and Texas, 20.3. Only two Southern states, Florida with a 20.8 and Virginia at 20.7, outranked Oklahoma in that region.

Education secretary Floyd Coppedge said that as job requirements become more and more sophisticated, even students who do not go on to college find that courses such as trigonometry serve them well in their work.

Gov. Frank Keating said the state must take steps to ensure that within five years its students' ACT scores soar above the national average, which this year is 21.0, the same as in 1997.

Keating has pushed for incorporation of "4 by 4" into Oklahoma's public school curriculum for most of his four-year term of office.

Under "4 by 4," high school students would be required to take four years each of math, science, social studies and English.

In addition to "4 by 4," Keating said, Oklahoma must halt so- called "social promotions," by which students are moved ahead a grade without actually passing all their courses.

Even students who take the ACT core curriculum of 13 advanced- level courses, which is not as rigorous as "4 by 4," score better than those who take less-challenging classes, the governor said.

Oklahoma students who took the ACT core curriculum earned an average composite score of 21.9, compared to 19.0 for their non-core peers. The ACT core includes four years of English and three years each of specified math, social sciences and natural science courses.

Keating said the state must also do away with "teacher waivers," where educators not certified in a particular subject are allowed to teach, especially in science and math. However, Keating said he would support temporary certification of college professors and retirees with math and science expertise, in order to boost the number of teachers in these critical subjects.

"The fact is, this is a call to arms," said the governor.

Coppedge said statistics show that students who take more rigorous curriculum do much better in school. …