When schools use data from college readiness assessments, it helps teachers focus their instruction to boost students’ skills and school counselors encourage students to add more challenging courses to their class schedules.
That helps broaden the pool of students ready for college, and that’s what the College Board, which offers the SAT, PSAT and Advanced Placement assessments, is all about, said Rachel Dixon, executive director of the not-for-profit organization at a presentation last week at the Arizona School Boards Association/Arizona School Administrators annual conference in Phoenix.
“Our mission is really about helping students own their pathway to college,” Dixon said. “The College Board is an organization that’s over 114 years old. It was created to bring equity to the landscape of who’s going to college.”
To do this, College Board redesigned the SAT in 2015 to better reflect what are students learning in school and what they need to know to succeed in college, Dixon said.
The SAT, which is accepted by every U.S. college, is just one part of a suite of assessments ranging from the PSAT 8/9 that students can take as eighth-graders and high school freshman, the PSAT 10 for high school sophomores, the PSAT/NMSQT for high school juniors and Advanced Placement assessments students take after completing a college-level AP course at their high school.
Schools receive reports that show how their students compare with their peers in their district, state and the nation, if they are approaching, meeting or exceeding the benchmark, and provide data for students by socioeconomic group, and data on individual students as well as their responses to questions, Dixon said.
This allows teachers to see what skills the students in their class might benefit from extra instruction on and also provides them questions that they can use in their classroom for bellwork or assignments to get their students familiar with these types of questions, Dixon said.
When school counselors talk with students about their results on the assessments they can show them that they have the ability to take honors or Advanced Placement courses and challenge themselves, Dixon said.
“We’re really trying to work with the student to help inspire them to do more for themselves,” Dixon said.
Improving through practice
The results include a breakdown of a student’s performance in certain areas in English and math, so students know what they’re doing well on and what they should work more on, Dixon said.
“Our assessments are not just about taking a test,” Dixon said. “We’re giving them information and data to let them know, ‘Hey, you want to be a doctor? Well, do you see these math skills that you’re struggling a little bit on? Here, let me show you how to practice so that you can improve those math skills, so that you can become a doctor.’ ”
To help students improve their skills, College Board has partnered with Khan Academy, a leader in online education, to provide a free personalized practice plan for each student tailored to their own strengths and challenges.
“It’s a great tool,” Dixon said. “We have eight full practice exams on there. Students who take the PSAT can then link their college board account with a Khan Academy account. We send over the metadata analysis on the student’s results and then Khan Academy creates a personalized SAT study plan for that student.”
Research has shown that students who practice for about 20 hours, on average, will increase their score by 115 points when they take the assessment again, Dixon said.
“The system finds the skills where students will have the quick wins,” Dixon said. ” You might have missed one or two questions here so start practicing here. That way, the student has these little successes and then it takes them later on into the harder things that they need to practice on.”
The system also lets students know when they’re ready for a practice test, gives them the option to do it online or on paper with pencil, asks them to take a picture of their answer sheet and grades it for them, Dixon said.
Menu of assessments
As of this year, school districts and charter schools could choose from a menu of assessments for high school students instead of administering the AzMERIT exam as long as they notify the Arizona State Board of Education of their choice by July 1 of its selection through a form on the website.
The SAT, ACT, Cambridge International Exam, Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, and Grand Canyon Diploma are on the menu of assessments adopted by the Arizona State Board of Education on Feb. 26, 2018.
This “could potentially leave the state with a multitude of different tests to measure school success, eliminating the ability to compare test scores across schools and districts, and undercutting the accountability movement that has largely driven state education policy for the past decade,” said an Arizona Daily Star article.
Schools that select an assessment from the menu are required to administer that assessment for three consecutive years.
So far several schools have decided to stop administering AzMerit, and all those have chosen the SAT or ACT instead.
Eliminating barriers, connecting to scholarship opportunities
In addition to Saturday testing dates, students can take the PSAT/NMSQT and SAT during the school day and income-eligible students can receive fee waivers for the assessments, which has reduced the barriers some students face, Dixon said.
“What are some of those barriers? Transportation, having a meal or snack, taking care of a sibling because parents have to work or students who work themselves,” Dixon said.
Some students might say “it’s hard for me to get there on a Saturday, and I don’t think I’m that well prepared. I’m not taking it,” but offering the exam at their school during the school day eliminates those barriers, Dixon said.
The College Board partners with 16 organizations that offer scholarships including National Merit and recently unveiled its own scholarship program.
The College Board Opportunity Scholarship, unveiled in November, incentivizes students for things they’re already doing as they prepare for postsecondary education, Dixon said.
Students who go to the College Board’s Big Future website are asked if they want to participate and given the steps to complete so they have an opportunity for scholarships of various dollar amounts.
“A student goes on there and they build a college list – these are the four schools I’m interested in going to. Now they’re in a drawing for a $500 scholarship,” Dixon said. “The next step, they practice for the SAT, and we can see that through the online SAT practice. Now they have a chance for a $1000 scholarship.”
If students retake the SAT and improve their scores, then they have a chance at a $2,000 scholarship. When students strengthen their college list as a senior – determining these are my reach and these are my safe schools, then they have a chance for $500 scholarship.
By completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid – the FAFSA – students have a chance at a $1,000 scholarship, and when they apply to college, they have a chance at another $1,000 scholarship, Dixon said.
“When they do all of that – those six steps – Now they’re eligible for a $40,000 scholarship,” Dixon said. “We’re doing this starting with the junior class right now.”
“Just by going here and saying I want to participate, now they’re eligible for these scholarships and that’s a big help for them and their families,” Dixon said.