By Allison Collins
SIDNEY – For the third consecutive year, Sidney students were able to sit the SAT exam Wednesday at no charge and during regular school hours.
Doing so, officials said, means test-takers in rural districts don’t have to overcome travel restrictions experienced with weekend test dates or incur the usual $65-plus test fee.
“SAT participation grows when it is administered on a school day—especially among low-income students,” Jaslee Carayol, a representative with the College Board, which operates the SATs, said in a written statement. “And a growing body of evidence shows (that) offering the SAT at no cost to students during the school day propels more students into college. Sidney Central School is … clearing the path for students by participating in SAT School Day.”
Sidney is one of only a few districts in the state to administer the test this way, Sidney Superintendent Dr. William Christensen said, and New York is among 10 states in the country to do so.
The arrangement, Christensen said, began four years ago when he approached the College Board. Christensen also sits on an advisory board under the auspices of the College Board.
At the time, he said, Sidney’s student population was taking the exam at a percentage rate in the “low teens to 20s.”
“With (the SATs) being a gatekeeper to college and our kids not taking it,” he said, “the reality was that kids were missing out on scholarships and all types of opportunities.”
“What happens is, we negotiate a significantly reduced rate and we build it right into our budget,” he explained. “It’s typically $65 or $70 for a student to take, but we’re not paying nearly that. We’re in the range of $15 to $18 dollars per student and, for the students receiving free and reduced lunch, which is the majority, it’s 100 percent free.”
Christensen noted that the school’s rate depends on the number of student participants and is discounted by partnering with high-volume districts elsewhere in the state.
The initiative, Christensen said, has been embraced by teachers, students and parents.
“With our student socioeconomics, a huge obstacle was coming in on a Saturday and paying for the test,” he said. “But this levels the playing field for all students. Having it available to every kid is our goal … and it’s been real successful. We’re very pleased.”
On Wednesday, Christensen said, 38, or roughly 40 percent, of Sidney seniors took the 154-question SAT test and 117, or 60 percent, of 10th- and 11th-graders sat the PSATs. Many seniors, he noted, were taking the test for the second or third time. Both tests will be offered at Sidney again in the spring.
“This year is our highest participation yet,” Christensen said. “We’ve more than doubled our participation in the PSATs and SATs … and we’re seeing more and more students applying (for colleges) that I don’t think would’ve before.”
With increased participation, Christensen said, has come boosted test scores.
“Our scores are higher because kids are in their natural school environment,” he said. “So we’ve seen our scores go up and it’s a combination of more kids taking it and kids being more comfortable while they’re taking it—they’re with their friends, in the confines of their school and they’re not having to travel outside of the district.”
As an added bonus, Christensen said, the modernized format of test administration allows students and teachers to receive vital feedback.
“One of the most important parts is that, once they take the test, the results are now automatically downloaded to … an online remediation site,” he said. “So we know exactly what a student’s weaknesses are and students that want to, can use online tutorials to work on those deficiencies. We’ve seen a lot of student engagement.”
“(Administrators) are getting those reports back, too,” he added. “So it’s great for us, because we’re able to pass that information back to teachers … and it’s a good barometer for us to know where our program is at. Before, we didn’t get that data back.”
Christensen said the initiative is open to interested districts.
“Other districts can do it,” he said. “It’s a lot of work. Our staff works extremely hard to do this and we’re working with the College Board. It’s a highly secured test and you follow their rules … but we’re thrilled about it and glad to do it.”
For more information, visit collegeboard.org.