December 10, 2013 in City

Spokane Public Schools pays for college entrance exams

By The Spokesman-Review
 
SFCC to use SATs for math

For the first time, SAT scores will be used for college math placement at Spokane Falls Community College.

The pilot program between Spokane Public Schools and SFCC is part of an effort to mainstream students into post-secondary education and more appropriately place them in math courses.

Historically, students have taken a state-created college placement test called My Math Test to determine what level math to enroll in. Nearly 90 percent of Spokane Public Schools’ recent graduates, on average, are testing into remedial math to enter Community Colleges of Spokane.

But studies suggest that such placement exams often place students into lower-level courses than necessary.

Using the SAT test as placement should help, the district says.

Spokane Public Schools is paying for all its sophomores and juniors to take college entrance exams through next school year.

The $104,000 expense is expected to help teachers learn whether students are on track for college-level math, using the PSAT as a measuring stick. And it dissolves a financial barrier for students who can’t afford the PSAT and SAT exam fees.

About 60 percent of the district’s students are from families considered poor enough to qualify them for school lunch subsidies.

Spokane’s largest school district joins a relatively small group of 70 districts across the nation that will participate in SAT School Day and offer the test free.

The SAT is typically given by the College Board on a Saturday, but because the College Board – the creator of the exam – is trying to encourage more kids to take it, some districts can offer it during the week, said Wendy Watson, Spokane Public Schools’ secondary curriculum director.

The district’s exam day is April 16.

Typically, about 50 percent of Spokane Public Schools’ students take the test, which costs more than $50, district officials said.

The PSAT, a test to determine students’ qualification for scholarships and areas to strengthen for the SAT, is administered to sophomores. It costs about $14.

The funding of the SAT for all 11th graders is an important commitment by the School Board and the district administration to help students pursue a post-secondary education, officials said.

Other than traditional uses for the exams, administrators plan to use the scores to help students meet math skill goals.

Math is of concern among teachers after the Program for International Student Assessment last week revealed the United States ranks 26th in the world in math literacy. Although the U.S. scores were similar in 2009, other nations scored much better than they had in the previous assessment.

“We want to give the students a chance to make sure they are taking all the math they need,” said Watson, of Spokane Public Schools.

The district’s effort is “helping us meet a huge social justice goal,” she said. “It’s helping us build a vision for our students.”


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