Jan 4, 2013

The College Board Introduces ‘SAT® School Day’

In a move designed to counter growing use of the ACT by states to measure student achievement, the College Board recently introduced “SAT® School Day.”  This program enables participating districts and states to fund official SAT test administration in their schools during the week and not just on Saturdays.

Since last April, the SAT has been offered to certain students free of charge on a school day in the fall, winter, or spring of the academic year. 

But the extra exams are only open to students attending specified high schools, and only juniors are eligible to take the test.

Locally, Prince George’s County students took the SAT on October 17 of last year.  The test was administered at nearly all high schools in the district and cost the county $32.11 per student—specially discounted from the usual $50 registration fee. 

“We wanted to provide our seniors with an opportunity to take an assessment that will assist them in preparing for their post-secondary experience and to create a college-going culture in our schools,” Monica Goldson, acting PGCPS chief operating officer, told Gazette.net.

In the District, public high schools will be giving the SAT on Wednesday, February 27.  All juniors are being strongly encouraged to take advantage of the free SAT test administration as a first step in the college admission process.

In the 2011-12 academic year, approximately 45,000 students participated in SAT® School Day.  Schools and districts in eight states participated including Connecticut, Florida, Idaho, Indiana, New Jersey, Texas, and Maryland.  In addition, the SAT was administered to all public school students in Maine and Delaware.

According to the College Board, over 50% of the students who participated in the FY 12 SAT® School Day qualified for free or reduced-price lunch.  But since the test is open to all students in a particular district or school, many who took the free test would never qualify for “fee waivers” as low income students. They are having their expenses fully underwritten by taxpayers.

Program benefits seem obvious.  For students, the test is free—given during a regular school day in familiar surroundings by a familiar administrative staff.  Students also have free access to the Official SAT Online Course, which includes 18 interactive lessons and 10 online practice tests with personalized feedback.

School districts benefit by having baseline information on student performance.  But they pay handsomely for the test as well as donate instructional time, classroom space, and test proctors.

Colleges get the benefit of having potential access to an increased and diversified pool of students through the College Board Student Search Service.  But they too pay for the many new names generated by participating high schools.

And the College Board not only benefits from increased income produced by taxpayer supported tests but also positions itself to bid against the ACT for state-wide achievement testing—another source of significant revenue.  No doubt the recent addition of North Carolina to nine other states using the ACT for this purpose is weighing heavily on the College Board, especially since the SAT has always dominated the market in the Carolinas.

"This looks like a (shrewd) marketing move to parry ACT's strategy of getting entire states to incorporate its test into the mandatory public school testing cycle,” commented Bob Schaeffer, public education director of the National Center for Fair & Open Testing (FairTest). “In both cases, hard-pressed taxpayers end up underwriting the program, while test-makers reap the advantages of lower administrative costs and economies of scale." 

Clearly not everyone is happy about SAT® School Day.  Local counselors have expressed equity concerns about the test, and they wonder about geographic distribution and scoring with such a relatively limited pool of test-takers.

“If you are not ready to take the test and don't like the scores, will they still be reported to colleges who ask to see all scores?” asked one local independent educational consultant. “In other words, will students be required to take the School Day test and report the scores?”

Evidently these details are still being sorted out.

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