Russian immigrant teen gets 'perfect' 1,600 on SAT

September 17, 1995|By Mike Bowler | Mike Bowler,Sun Staff Writer

A 16-year-old Russian immigrant, who never took formal English courses before moving to Baltimore four years ago, has scored a "perfect" 1,600 on the Scholastic Assessment Test, America's passport to college.

Daniel Kokotov, a senior at Beth Tfiloh Community School in Pikesville, greeted the news of his accomplishment modestly. To prepare for the test last spring, he said, "I got a few books from the library and took some practice tests. It was that simple."

But Daniel's ace on the SAT in his "second language" amazed a spokeswoman for the College Board, which oversees the test. "We've heard of non-Americans doing very well on the SAT," said Janice Gams, "but this goes beyond that."

Only 21 of more than one million students who took the test last year scored a perfect 1,600.

Daniel will be in a group "five or six times larger this year," Ms. Gams said, because scoring on the test has been "recentered," or reconfigured, by the testing agency. What used to be a 900 on the SAT changed to 1,010 in April. "But the test is no easier," Ms. Gams said. "He'll still be in a tiny minority."

Aided by the Associated Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, Daniel immigrated from Moscow with his parents, Khana and Boris Kokotov. Mr. Kokotov is an unemployed electrical engineer, his wife is a program analyst for the state of Maryland.

Daniel said he learned his first English from tutors employed by his parents in Moscow. "They knew we were going to the United States, so they started getting me prepared," Daniel said. He said he plunged into Baltimore's culture "and picked up English fairly rapidly."

Meanwhile, Daniel's mathematical and scientific genius was recognized quickly, and as a high school freshman he enrolled in the Johns Hopkins University Center for Talented Youth.

Daniel's school schedule is like that of other Beth Tfiloh seniors, said his principal, Daniel Lehmann, except that he takes a calculus course from Stanford University via E-mail and meets weekly with a scholar from the Johns Hopkins University's Applied Physics Laboratory. "We ran out of calculus courses for Daniel after two years," Rabbi Lehmann said.

In a school day running from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Daniel takes several advanced academic courses, Hebrew and other courses Jewish history, literature and leadership. There are two prayer services each day.

"Everybody expected Daniel would do well in math and science," said Rabbi Lehmann, "but how well he has done verbally is astonishing." Rabbi Lehmann said Daniel also earned the highest score possible on the advanced placement English language and composition test.

Daniel is the second student in a senior class of 32 at Beth Tfiloh to reach the maximum score on the SAT this year. Lisa Exler, who took the test a month before Daniel, also scored 1,600. The average score in Maryland last year was 909.

Each section of the SAT -- math and verbal -- is scored on a scale of 200 to 800. A 1,600 does not necessarily mean the student got no questions wrong on the three-hour exam.

Daniel said he'd like to attend the Massachusetts Institute of Technology or Harvard next fall, "but the main problem is finances. I'll have to go to a college that gives financial aid. But I think I would like the kind of people who go to those two colleges."

Julian C. Stanley, a Hopkins psychologist who studies precocious youth, called Daniel's accomplishment "remarkable. One of the Indian immigrants won the national spelling bee a few years ago, but English is India's language. This proves something," Dr. Stanley said. "If someone can do that well being a Russian immigrant, why can't more of our kids do it, too?"

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