Sunday, March 26, 2006

Too Much SAT In Maine?

In Maine, policy-makers take the Scholastic Aptitude Test seriously. All high school students are now required to take the SAT before collecting their diplomas. This means that students must show-up on a Saturday:
Taking the SAT Saturday could get students raffle tickets, breakfast or a day off. Around the state, many high schools are offering incentives to ensure 11th-graders show up for the college entrance exam on a rare, mandatory weekend school day.

For the first time, the state is requiring all high school juniors in Maine to take the SAT. The test can help students get a college acceptance letter next year while ensuring their school meets federal and state education standards.

"They are doing everything they can to get us to come in," said Spencer Luke, 16, a junior at Westbrook High School.

The test is typically taken by juniors and seniors on a voluntary basis at a cost of $41.50. Since most colleges require the exam, state education officials decided to make it free and mandatory. Their goal is to boost the number of students in Maine who go on to college.

At the same time, the test is replacing the Maine Educational Assessment test for 11th-graders. Federal and state officials will use the scores to measure the performance of individual schools.

Many high schools have spent weeks, even months, preparing students. Teachers have stepped up review for the exam with computer tutors, evening practice sessions and SAT drills during class.

"We put some of the regular instruction on the back burner," said Joe Corbin, director of guidance at Van Buren District Secondary School in Aroostook County.

Maine is the first state to pay for and require all its juniors to take the SAT. Many states are watching what happens here as they consider making a similar change, said Brian O'Reilly of the College Board, which administers the SAT.

State education officials predict the mandatory test will push more high school students to attend college. About 37 percent of Mainers 25 years or older have a college degree, which lags behind the New England average of 45 percent.

They also believe the SAT could produce better results than the MEA because its scores are crucial for college acceptance.

But principals and teachers first have to get students to their desks Saturday.

Van Buren will give its 40 juniors a special breakfast when they arrive and a pizza party after the test ends. Taking the SAT earns the juniors the following Monday off and "senior privileges," like being able to leave campus during the school day, Corbin said.

Others like Marshwood High School in South Berwick view the SAT as just another student responsibility and have shied away from incentives.

"The approach to getting kids there and fired up is across the board," said Daniel Hupp, a specialist with the Maine Department of Education.

Attendance at the SAT is an important issue for schools because of the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

Under the program, schools must have 95 percent of their students take the designated high school assessment test. If they don't meet the threshold, schools could eventually face federal sanctions, allowing parents to send their children elsewhere, education officials said.

"I know principals all over the state are very concerned about participation in this new program," said Michael Johnson, principal of Portland High School.

Many of his students have responsibilities on Saturdays, including caring for siblings and going to work. Earlier this year, he sent a letter to parents telling them to have their children's employers call him with any questions.

The state education department has made some provisions for makeup tests and having students who don't attend Saturday take the SAT in May, Hupp said.

For students, the shift to the SAT has provided them with more test preparation in school.

Students are doing SAT preparation before school, during study hall and after school through a computer program the state bought for all high schools. Schools are also making SAT preparation part of classroom work, providing one-on-one tutoring, and making the computer program available for use at home.
Read the whole thing.

Considering all the problems that the College Board (which administers The Test) has had this year, (
here, here, here, and here.) I'm not really sure that the best assessment to use would be the SAT. On the other hand, it is a nationally-recognized examination and serves as a yardstick with which to compare college applicants.

Which raises an interesting question: Have we now reached the point where some sort of standardized national examination should be considered?

Food for thought.
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