Arundel adopts new use for PSAT

Exam to gauge ability to do well in AP classes

October 15, 2002|By Laura Loh | Laura Loh,SUN STAFF

All ninth-, 10th-, and 11th- graders in Anne Arundel County public schools are scheduled to take the PSAT today - the first time the skills exam is being administered in all three grade levels throughout the county.

In the past, the test was optional for sophomores and juniors who planned to take the SAT.

And in a shift from the PSAT's traditional purpose, school officials will use the test results to identify students who are likely to do well in Advanced Placement courses, part of Superintendent Eric J. Smith's push for higher academic standards. The school system will pick up the tab - about $10 a student - at a total cost of more than $165,000.

Other Maryland school systems, including those in Baltimore City and Baltimore County, also pay for some students to take the PSAT, though not ninth-graders, and use the data to predict AP success.

The PSAT, which gives students an idea of what to expect on the SAT, measures mathematics, writing and reading skills.

Anne Arundel schools officials predict the new use for the PSAT will increase the number of students who enroll in AP classes because those who may not have thought of taking college-level courses will be singled out and told they have a good chance of success.

"The message we're sending is that, through this test, we're challenging ourselves to be more inclusive," said Diane Finch, coordinator of guidance and counseling.

In February, about a month after the test scores are released, officials will send letters to parents of children whose PSAT scores suggest they would do well in AP courses. Each letter will include a list of suggested courses, such as calculus, English or American history, for the individual student.

"It encourages people to step up to the plate and take more academic risks," said Smith, who helped develop the computer software used nationwide to analyze PSAT results for Advanced Placement potential.

Smith said the technique was a success in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg, N.C., school system, where he was superintendent for six years. The number of AP tests taken by students there nearly tripled during a four-year period. Among minorities, the number of tests quadrupled, he said.

Smith's goals for the next five years, which he announced in August, include increasing the number of students who take at least one AP course. He also wants more students to take the SAT and earn a higher average score on that test.

Research shows that students who take the PSAT once or more before taking the SAT tend to do better than those who have not.

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