Smoothing the path to college

Schools officials see rising scores after starting an SAT preparation course

Education Beat


In 2003, Harford school system officials noticed that SAT scores for county students had been stagnant over a span of several years.

Hoping to spur improvement on the SAT Reasoning Test - a standard college entrance exam formerly known as the Scholastic Aptitude Test - county schools began offering preparation courses that consist of online and classroom instruction.

Although school officials say it's too early to judge the effectiveness of the program, test scores have risen, the prep courses are filling up and more students are taking the SAT.

"You need at least a couple of years to look at the numbers to be able to attribute an increase to anything," said Gerald Scarborough, assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction for county schools. He said another year of testing would be a better indicator of the impact on scores.

Still, the early numbers have been encouraging, according to data compiled by the school system. This spring, 1,564 seniors took the SAT and earned an average verbal score of 511 and an average math score of 521. Those figures compare to 508 and 512 in 2004, when 1,483 students took the test, and 507 and 513, with 1,372 seniors taking the exam in 2002, the year before the prep programs were offered.

While refraining from crediting the prep courses for the initial progress, Scarborough, who led the effort to establish the program, said it is an important resource for the school system to offer.

The prep course "provides support for any student that wants to take the SAT test, free of charge to the student," he said. "And all students have equal access to it."

The school system spends $25,000 annually on the prep program, which was created by Virginia-based Triumph College Admissions. Materials include study guides, workbooks and progress-tracking reports for students, as well as a training program for teachers.

The one-semester course is worth a half-credit and is offered at Aberdeen, Bel Air, C. Milton Wright, Edgewood, Joppatowne and North Harford high schools.

At Edgewood High, the program consists of two sections of 25 students each, said Craig Malone, guidance counselor for seniors. One section focuses on math and one on English; students switch at the middle of semester.

Students who might not have otherwise considered taking the SAT are enrolling in the course, Malone said.

"The class has a spectrum of students," said Malone. "We have a little bit of everything in the classes. Students who are in [advanced placement] courses all the way down to students whose college plans are a question mark right now. But this kind of exposure can only help them when they go to take the SAT."

At Havre de Grace, it's a yearlong program worth one credit. Fallston and Harford Technical School offer noncredit SAT preparation programs after school.

The benefit of increasing students' exposure to the SAT process was a primary motivation for adopting the program, Scarborough said.

"Anyone can go to the local college and take an SAT prep course," said Scarborough. "But some kids can't afford that. And these kids can go out and do this on their own, but most of them won't."

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