Schools seek PSAT funding

System officials want $17,000 so all sophomores can take test free

March 19, 2006|By GINA DAVIS | GINA DAVIS,SUN REPORTER

To bolster Carroll County students' performance on college entrance exams, school officials want to budget $17,000 for next school year to give all sophomores the option of taking the Preliminary SAT for free.

For the past three years, the school system has picked up the tab for sophomores to take the exam - most commonly known by its acronym, PSAT - at three high schools that requested the funding: Century High in Sykesville, Liberty High in Eldersburg and South Carroll High in Winfield.

At Winters Mill in Westminster, sophomores could take the test at their own expense, according to school officials.

"I do believe, sincerely, that offering the PSAT to sophomores and juniors is extremely beneficial to our students," Lorraine Fulton, assistant superintendent for school instruction, said in an interview last week. "When you see the gains made by children who took the test as sophomores and juniors - huge gains - it's hard to ignore those gains."

But at least one school board member said she is concerned that the examination could become one more standardized test that students would feel obligated to take.

"I happen to think the SAT is an extremely important factor," board member Cynthia L. Foley said. "I don't have a problem that they have 10th-graders taking the test; I just don't want it to be mandatory. These kids have enough to do already."

Generally, students take the PSAT during the fall of their junior year. The standardized test serves as a practice run for the SAT Reasoning Test, which colleges use to gauge a student's aptitude. Most students take the SAT during the latter portion of their junior year and often again during the fall of their senior year.

The 130-minute PSAT exam, which measures critical reading, math problem-solving and writing skills, also is used as the National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test, which gives students the chance to apply for National Merit scholarships.

The funding that school officials are seeking for the next fiscal year, which starts July 1, would allow sophomores at all the system's high schools to take the test for free. Juniors would still be expected to pay their test fees.

In a written report to the board, Fulton wrote, "It is believed by the principals and teachers that January of the junior year [when students receive results from the fall PSAT] is too late to offer the opportunity for needed intervention strategies" to help students prepare for the SAT.

A review of national and Carroll County test results shows that students who take the PSAT in both the 10th and the 11th grades score "significantly higher" on the SAT than students who take the PSAT once or never, according to Fulton's report.

"The national data suggest that the majority of test takers for the PSAT were sophomores and therefore had more time to develop their skills in preparation for the SAT and other college entrance exams," Fulton wrote.

Several neighboring school systems - including Anne Arundel, Baltimore and Howard counties and Baltimore City - pay PSAT testing fees for sophomores. Anne Arundel and Baltimore counties also cover the testing fees for juniors.

Brendan Schlauch, Carroll's school board student representative, said he benefited from taking the PSAT as a sophomore and as a junior.

"My PSAT [score] went up 100 points from my sophomore year to my junior year," said Schlauch, a senior at South Carroll High, where the test was covered by system funding. "And then my SAT score went up more from that. Taking the PSAT was beneficial because it allowed me to see what I needed to improve upon."

Foley said that she isn't opposed to sophomores taking the exam but worries that administering it during the school day will interfere with classes. She said county financing of the test could also send the message that students are expected to take it.

She said that the administration of the PSAT could disrupt classes because not all courses are limited to one grade level.

"If you have five or six kids out of the class for the test, or only five or six kids left in the class because others are gone for the test, how much is going to get done in class that day?" said Foley, who plans to meet with Fulton this month to air her concerns. "It's just one more day that's taken away for testing."

Foley said that if school officials are going to encourage 10th-graders to take the PSAT, they should have concrete plans for using the data to help students improve their scores in subsequent testing.

Schlauch said he believes the test results allow students, guidance counselors and teachers to identify students' weaknesses and strengths. He said the information is being used as a blueprint for what students should work on to boost their scores.

He said school officials could adopt an opt-out policy so that students wouldn't feel pressured to take the exam.

"Students should at least be given the option," he said. "And when you don't have to pay, it definitely makes it an option."

gina.davis@baltsun.com

Average SAT scores

Carroll County data

2002

SAT scores of students who took the PSAT as 10th- and 11th-graders: 1172

SAT scores of students who took the PSAT once: 1070

SAT scores of students who never took the PSAT: 971

2003

SAT scores of students who took the PSAT as 10th- and 11th-graders: 1157

SAT scores of students who took the PSAT once: 1042

SAT scores of students who never took the PSAT: 975

2004

SAT scores of students who took the PSAT as 10th- and 11th-graders: 1128

SAT scores of students who took the PSAT once: 1045

SAT scores of students who never took the PSAT: 960

[Source: Carroll County school system]

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