Edmond Santa Fe High School senior LaBraia Owens is determined to stick to her college-and-career plan, even in the face of a deadly pandemic that has changed everything.

“I just have that ambitious personality,” Owens said. “It makes me work harder and problem solve all the things we have to face.”

Among the things COVID-19 upended were her game plan for touring college campuses and for taking the ACT college admissions test.

Owens, who describes herself as a “B” student, wants to attend college in Texas or California. That will require academic scholarships that are awarded in part on a high ACT score, she said.

“I’m reaching for the 30s,” Owens said. The top score is 36.

Like her older sister, Owens planned to take the test three times to keep improving her score. Oklahoma’s 2019 graduates who took the ACT two or more times had an average composite score of 21.0, compared to an average of 16.8 for those who took the ACT only once.


Owens was ready to take the test initially last spring when the state of Oklahoma was scheduled to administer it to all public-school juniors. But that didn’t happen because schools shut down as the coronavirus spread. COVID-19 has killed more than 1,000 Oklahomans and 200,000 in the U.S.

“She would have done really well last April because she had been working on it. Our teachers teach in that direction when the students are juniors,” said Edmond Santa Fe Principal Jason Hayes.

The state-sponsored test has been provided every spring since 2016. Students and their families were counting on it.

A plan to test those 37,000 juniors when they returned to schools this fall fell apart when the Legislature did not budget the $1.9 million needed to do so. Educators and lawmakers said the governor should pay for it from the more than $1 billion in federal coronavirus relief funds Oklahoma received. But that didn’t happen.

Each member of the class of 2021 was left to deal directly with ACT Inc. to register for the test – which is offered at multiple sites on multiple dates – and to pay for it. 

Some signed up for summer tests — which were hit and miss because of coronavirus cancellations — and will retest this fall as they pursue admission to their top-choice schools and large scholarships. An unknown number won’t take the test at all; 18% of graduates didn’t before the state offered it and more than half of recent graduates took only the state-sponsored ACT.

Owens wanted to use the results of the spring test to target areas of improvement and study for two subsequent tests. 

After a test she signed up for in June was canceled due to COVID-19, she finally took the test for the first time in July. She scored 25. 

Now Owens is using online practice tests to prepare for taking the ACT again in October. She is focusing on math and English “trouble areas” as well as pacing to ensure she will complete the test in the allotted time. She also has a math tutor.

Owens, who lives with her grandmother, qualifies for waivers from ACT so the cost of the tests and practice tests isn’t a concern. Her big worry is another cancellation.

“That’s my only fear,” she said. “October has to be a really good score because I won’t be able to take it a third time.”

The priority deadline for many scholarships is Nov. 1 or Dec. 1, Owens said. It could take six weeks or more to get her score.

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She has 13 college admissions applications nearly completed, just waiting for that score. The Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma, where she works, is covering her admissions fees. 

Owens plans to major in marketing or public relations. 

Meanwhile, her senior year is challenging with two days in class and two days distance learning. 

“It makes it harder to learn and get their (teachers) input,” she said. Teachers must make up for material missed last spring and “cram in all the new things,” Owens said. And some teaches still struggle with the technology. 

School organizations and activities also are greatly impacted. Owens has been involved in student council and DEC for all four years of high school. She currently is state president of DECA, a student organization that strives to prepare emerging leaders and entrepreneurs in marketing, finance, hospitality and management.

Owens is confident she will be accepted to a university next fall. The question is whether her second ACT score will secure a scholarship to a university of her dreams.

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