WASHINGTON COUNTY — Senior Hanna Wade fills out an application in a college-preparatory class at South Hagerstown High School.
Tim Kasella scored 1,500 out of a possible 2,400 the first time he took the SAT in June, at the end of his junior year at South Hagerstown High School.
At the recommendation of his guidance counselor, the 17-year-old senior is taking a college-preparatory course that includes SAT preparation at South High this fall.
He retook the SAT on Oct. 1 and thinks he will have a higher score this time.
Many of the vocabulary and root words Kasella studied, either at home or in the college-preparation class with SAT Coordinator Kathy Thornhill, appeared on the critical reading section of the SAT test. And the class time with teacher Mark Higinbotham helped him brush up on the algebra he took years earlier, a plus with the math section.
The SAT test has three sections — critical reading, math and writing — worth up to 800 points each.
Kasella is aiming for at least a 1,650 on his SAT. He wants to be an obstetrician and is considering studying at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, Towson University or the University of Maryland Baltimore County.
“In June, I really didn’t study for it back then. I just decided to go in and see how it was so I (could) get a feel for the test. But I did pretty good. I got a 1,500, 500 on all three sessions,” Kasella said.
Kasella is one of 205 students taking college-preparation courses in Washington County public high schools during the current school year, said Clyde Harrell, the school system’s director for curriculum and instruction.
The course is available at four high schools — Boonsboro, North Hagerstown, South Hagerstown and Williamsport — said Jeremy Jakoby, supervisor of testing and accountability.
Last year, 227 students took the course, Harrell said. Where the elective course is offered is primarily driven by student demand.
Students get some SAT prep in math and English classes as teachers try to familiarize them with the “nature and format of questions” on the college-entrance exam, Harrell said.
Classes tough enough?
After hearing a presentation Oct. 4 on the 2010-11 school year’s SAT and ACT scores for Washington County Public Schools’ students, some school board members wanted to know what SAT prep was available for students and whether the course work leading up to the college-entrance exam is rigorous enough.
While the average SAT math score for county public school students fell 11 points from 515 to 504 in the last school year, school system officials showed board members data that students who had taken at least pre-calculus did significantly better on all three sections of the SAT.
Students with at least pre-calculus scored an average of 570 on the SAT’s math section, compared with other students who scored an average of 459. About 40 percent of test takers last year reported taking pre-calculus or calculus.
But school board Vice President W. Edward Forrest said the SAT math section is primarily based on algebra II level skills.
According to the website for the College Board, which provides the SAT exam, the SAT covers four major areas of math: numbers and operations; algebra and functions; geometry and measurement; and data analysis, statistics and probability.
Forrest questioned whether the math curriculum between algebra I and algebra II, which includes geometry, is rigorous enough to prepare students for the SAT.
Kasella said the SAT math section he took Oct. 1 was mostly algebra with little pre-calculus. He hadn’t taken an algebra class since algebra II his freshman year, so Tim said the algebra refresher Higinbotham provided in the college-prep course was valuable.
For the last two years, school system officials have promoted more rigor in the algebra I course so the course work goes beyond the expectation of the High School Assessment algebra exam, Harrell said. That prepares students for more rigor in the algebra II course, he said.
Teachers also have been teaching core class concepts in part from the perspective of that discipline, such as how scientists use data for research, school system officials said.
The new Common Core curriculum expected in the 2013-14 school year will be more rigorous, Assistant Superintendent Donna Hanlin said.
One of the Common Core’s focuses is providing complex texts in core classes, which will help with reading comprehension, Harrell said.
“We want students to struggle some with text so they have to stretch themselves to understand,” Harrell said.
Schools Superintendent Clayton Wilcox, who moved to the area this summer to take the job, said he was struck by the lack of private college counselors in Washington County. A parent of two teenagers, Wilcox said the closest college coach on the list he was provided was in Frederick County, Md.
Such experts help students prepare for college-entrance exams in such ways as offering advice on when to take the test and providing a test-taking strategy based on the score a student needs to get in to a desired college, Wilcox said.
“These are opportunities that our kids haven’t had before in this county, so it’s not necessarily a shortfall of the school system in that college (counseling) area, but it is an advantage that other kids have had that we hope to bring to our kids,” Wilcox told the school board Oct. 4.
Some families can afford to hire such counselors, and the school system will try to help those families find them, Wilcox said after the Oct. 4 meeting.
For families who cannot afford to do that, school system officials might look at how to best organize counselors’ time to provide such assistance, Wilcox said.
Some school system administrators were scheduled to review goals, including SAT preparation goals, during an Oct. 5 meeting, Wilcox said.
School system officials planned to talk about whether increasing SAT participation every year is an appropriate focus or whether they should focus on making sure every student who could benefit from taking the SAT has access to the test, Wilcox said.
There are some students who, because of their learning style and college aspirations, would benefit more from taking only the ACT college-entrance exam, Wilcox said.
For instance, the ACT test can be a better fit for science majors because it tests students on science, said Thornhill, the SAT coordinator at South High.
Wilcox said school system officials should make sure that a student planning to take the SAT or ACT takes an advanced math course and isn’t taking the test after going a year or two without math classes.
“How can you expect them to be successful in that? But that again is a matter of coaching, counseling, advisement that we, I think, owe our young people,” Wilcox said.
School system officials also were to talk about students’ access to online SAT study resources.