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Officials say policies blameless for dip in SAT takers

September 04, 2006|by ERIN CUNNINGHAM

WASHINGTON COUNTY - A smaller percentage of Washington County Public Schools' 2006 graduates took the SAT than the year before, but school officials said their policies are not to blame.

Assistant Superintendent for Secondary Instruction Donna Hanlin said a variety of factors could have caused this year's 2 percent drop in the number of graduates who took the SAT. She said the school system's practice of counseling students to sometimes wait to take the SAT until they are better prepared was not one.

Thirty-five fewer graduates took the SAT in 2006 than the 734 who took the test in 2005, according to data released last week.

Officials said the graduating class was smaller. Hanlin said Thursday that not only was the class size smaller, but a smaller percentage of graduates took the test.

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In 2004, 725 graduates took the college placement exam.

Hanlin said the number of graduates who took the SAT this year could not have dropped as a result of advice given by schools' guidance counselors. Graduates cannot be advised to wait to take the SAT because they typically need a score for admission into college.

Hanlin said high school guidance counselors work with students to make sure they are prepared to take the SAT.

The scores from the PSAT, which is given to most of the county's 10th-graders, is one tool, she said.

"Based on those scores, they have a one-on-one session with counselors and work on a plan," Hanlin said. "They work on a plan to see what they need to do to take the SAT."

Students are not discouraged from taking the SAT if counselors feel they will do poorly. They are advised, she said.

Students may be advised to take additional courses. For example, the new SAT focuses more on Algebra II than the previous test, so a student who has not completed that course might be advised to do so, she said.

Students might be counseled to take a composition course to help them do well on the new writing portion of the SAT. Counselors also might offer students they think need additional help the online SAT prep-course through The College Board, which produces the SAT. Hanlin said this process for preparing students for the SAT is in the beginning stages.

"We're really going to be counseling all of our students one on one and making sure they are prepared with the appropriate course work to be able to take the SAT at the appropriate time," she said. "We're being very strategic in giving (students) what they need in order to be successful on (the SAT). I'm feeling really good about the things we have in place to allow students to be as well prepared as possible before they take the SAT."

Caren Scoropanos, spokeswoman for The College Board, said the average student increases his or her test score by 30 points when taking the SAT a second time. She said 45 percent of students nationally take the SAT one time. Thirty-eight percent of students take it twice, and 17 percent take the test three times or more.

Scoropanos said the test is intended for students to take in their senior year, when most students have taken Algebra II and other more advanced course work.

"Students should take the test when they're ready," she said.

But she also said she was unsure about why students would be advised to wait to take the test, when data shows that students improve their scores on the second take.

"Some of that advising might come from a political place because a school system may want their students to appear to have higher scores," she said.

Liz Medcalf, spokeswoman for Frostburg State University, said officials there recommend that incoming students take the SAT at least twice - once in the spring of their junior year and again in the fall of their senior year.

"With the idea there that in their senior year they are taking advanced courses that will help them increase their scores in those particular areas," she said.

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